Day Two: Navigationally Challenged in the Rain
Finally, the ferry! As I came to a stop at the end of the pier, some people walked out saying something about how I was making good time and asked some questions. They didn’t greet me and I was near panic so I have no idea who they were, but apparently dot-watchers of some sort. I constantly watched the tollbooth at the ferry terminal for Thomas. There wasn’t anything I could do if he rolled up anyways, but man my adrenaline was spiking!
The ferry couldn’t leave the dock fast enough - but it eventually did; without Thomas. I relaxed a bit, although I found less food on board than I’d hoped for. Trackleaders showed carnage in my wake. Thomas was making great time, but I couldn’t help wondering what was going through everyone else’ mind that morning. Although the early ferry would have been nice, my seat of the pants estimate had been 24 hours to make it to Edmonds and I wasn’t so far off; the Grand Depart left the beach at 7am and I was on the 8:45am ferry.
I got off the ferry feeling a bit tired and wheeled to a stop for a quick photo and to load my route. In the interest of being kind to my aging Garmin 1000, I had split the ~700 mile route into 3 more palatable chunks; route number two was to start here in Edmonds after I got off the ferry. A rookie mistake however was not testing the routes before I left home; it didn’t load correctly. In my sleep deprived state I didn’t catch on quickly, I just noticed the Garmin didn’t do the usual count to 100% when starting a route and the line on the map was a funny color. I climbed on the bike, worked my way around ferry traffic, and started climbing straight up into Edmonds. Then I noticed the line I was following had no queues, was rather faint, and darn it I was almost positive the route followed the waterfront at first, didn’t it?
Frustrated, I loaded the route using Ride With GPS (RWGPS) on my phone and confirmed I was off course. Uh-oh. I stopped the route on my Garmin, loaded it again. Nope. I looked at the map summary of the route - and it was BLANK! Wow, this was probably the most navigationally challenging part of the whole event and my Garmin wouldn’t show me what I needed.
Okay, so sleep deprived mistake one was not noticing right away there was a problem and going off route. Ready for number two? Garmin will not allow you to download a route while you have an active ride being recorded, no one knows why. I could have stopped my ride, downloaded the entire XWA route to Garmin, and set off again in less than five minutes. But. No.
Why? Because Strava. I spent time thinking about this ahead of the event; how to break up my ride segments. Would I save each time I hit 100 miles? How about specific goal towns along the way? Maybe every 24 hours? The answer I had settled on was sleep. When I decided to sleep that would be the end of an activity and when I awoke and started riding would be the start of the next. Well crumbs. Here I sat only 24 hours through my (hopeful) 48 hour push and I made a dumb choice. I didn’t stop my ride to download the map. I left the screen on my phone unlocked showing the RWGPS map (recording so there was a moving dot to follow) and propped it in the slot of the top tube bag in front of me. It was janky; I could only just see the screen, it was at a bad angle, and larger bumps would rotate it out of view. BUT STRAVA!!
I snapped the above photo while chuckling out loud at Troy’s creativity. The couple who jogged by moments later I felt deserved an explanation; I don’t remember what I said but it was something about the creative side of their neighborhood and garnered a forgiving laugh. I should have enjoyed this stretch more but my thoughts were glued to the dwindling battery indicator on my screen.
Jessica K surprised me, popping out of nowhere on what was definitely a bikepacking rig, and shouting hello! I was thankful for a little human interaction; and confirmation I wasn’t the only one chuffed about my (short lived) first place position. I’d never met Jessica but for some reason I knew her name, likely thanks to Facebook. She snapped the following photo and yelled some encouragement before continuing her Monday morning commute. Oh right, that’s what everyone else is doing right now!
I made another wrong turn somehow. The route turns off the Burke Gillman Trail into Blyth Park in Bothell. I stopped at the park, but not because I saw the queue, I just needed water. I refilled at the restroom and kept riding. I didn’t figure it out until I got to the stoplight for Riverside Drive. Out came my phone for scrutiny and sure enough another wrong turn. I wheeled back into the park, past where I had just refilled my water, and up the powerline trail. This was a trip. I’m not sure I could ride this trail on a dry day, let alone tired with a loaded bike. I walked most of it.
The reward for the effort? Roger B! He met me partway up and walked up with me asking questions and giving encouragement. He provided a stashed cooler at the top for all the XWA riders and I helped myself to some cold liquid and a chocolate milk to go. I even afforded a brief conversation with the neighbor over the fence who Roger knew. Roger also asked if I’d seen Thomas yet because he was right behind me coming up the hill. WHAT?! It was going to happen eventually and I hadn’t really spent any time calculating when, but there was no reason to hasten the overtake. I thanked Roger and tipped over the other side of the hill.
My phone battery had tanked quickly since I started navigating with the screen on. I plugged it into my battery pack, but that had already helped supplement my headlight through the night and I hadn’t been charging it, so it didn’t last long either. By the time I made it to Woodinville I was in a losing race against time. The battery pack was now plugged into the dynamo and passing whatever juice was available to keep the phone alive.
And then suddenly I had company! Lo and Michael B joined me on the Sammamish River Trail! It was a bit surreal seeing them and I almost had enough energy to feel bad about the breathless pace I was trying to maintain in order to charge my phone. Lo was sick and still got on her bike to cheer me on for a few miles and Michael should have been at work! And this is how I was treating them? Nice.
Then it happened - Thomas caught me. Michael was thoughtful enough to photograph the moment. As glad as I was to see my friend, there’s no doubt I felt like my chances of placing well were dwindling - he had slept, still caught me within half a day, and wasn’t racing his battery to the next turn. I wondered where the rest of the bunch were. We chatted for a bit and I learned he wasn’t without difficulty; his rear derailleur was barely operational. Lo headed home to rest, aka be incredibly sick and yet still be a huge constant encouragement for me via text message the rest of the route.
A familiar piece of ground came next with a jaunt off the river trail up the powerline trail. I have ridden this several times as it is part of a fun, if short, offroad route called the Thrilla loop. Doing this on a loaded bike was new though. I made a poor line choice up a very steep section and fell over, into the blackberry bushes along the side of the trail - ouch! This was very worrying in the moment because I knew it would mean lots of little injuries, to my hands and my bum no less. I untangled easily and none of these would prove to be a problem in the future, but it was another knock to my confidence and general mood.
At some point Michael took another photo of Thomas and I on the powerline trail before my poor choices split our paths. I was struggling to keep Thomas in sight. Now, in what should have been the easiest, most familiar part of the entire route (I live just down the street), my phone died. I was torn. I could follow Thomas, but that felt a bit like cheating for some reason. Then, he took an unexpected turn. I’d never taken that path and I was afraid he was going off course for reasons of his own; so I stopped. I thought I had studied this part of the route and I was confident it went in the other, more common, direction. I rolled a short distance before my confidence gave out. Michael didn’t ride by, he must have followed the route and Thomas. Not that he could have offered help anyway in the spirit of the event, but I was really on my own now and didn’t know what to do. I had no contingency plan for lost without navigation or a cell phone.
Frustrated at myself, I rolled back to the turn Thomas had taken and followed it to the next major road, which I didn’t recognize, and turned right. I had no idea but I was actually on route. I rolled to an intersection - and recognized it! Whew, at least I knew where I was now. I stopped at a Shell station and plugged my phone into an outlet outside to charge. My strategy for the route was dependent on charging from my dynamo so the only wall plug I brought was a single USB 1 amp plug for my iPhone.
I checked the store for chargers, but they had no wall plugs, only cables and 12v sockets for cars. Once my phone returned to life I messaged Michael so at least he would know why I suddenly disappeared. It wasn’t long before he showed up at the gas station and watched my bike while I shopped for snacks. Oh, and I paid for a ladies gas because she had a sad story. I’m not sure I believed her but I don’t regret the decision. I should have asked her for a ride, but I hadn’t formulated a plan yet so the opportunity slipped. Also, there is some irony here where a “stranded” cyclist on a self-supported bikepacking adventure pays to keep a motorist on the road…
It was raining, Michael, who was my only company, would need to leave soon, and the battery on my phone was increasing at an agonizingly slow rate. With some good gas station calories came the faint whisperings of a plan.
“Michael, I’m going to Target to buy a bigger wall charger!”
Like the good friend he is, he followed even when I detoured to Home Depot first. I clomped through the store in my dripping rain jacket and slippery cleats and eventually found what I was after - electrical connectors and a crimping tool. Then, around the corner to Target where I repeated the process and emerged with the biggest wall charger I could find (TWO USB plugs, but higher speed as well), and a brick of a 20,000mAh battery pack which may or may not be charged - the guy didn’t know.
My wallet was lighter and my bike would be heavier but my spirits were high - I felt like a Viking, returning to my vessel with the spoils of a successful raid. Really it was just Michael and I standing in the rain outside Target watching lights blink while plugged into the outdoor outlets.
Michael watched with amusement while I rebuilt the (perfectly fine) connectors on my dynamo. Then he had to get back to his real life and it was just me standing in the rain watching blinking lights.
I don’t know why but I didn’t look at the trackleaders page. Maybe I didn’t want to know. I ate food and nervously walked back and forth in front of Target. I was using two outlets but they were on opposite sides of a stone pillar I couldn’t see around and there was enough foot traffic I was worried something would walk away. In a mysterious moment of comedy, something did walk away, but not what I expected. As my electronics gained some life I started throwing away non-essentials, like the packaging that came with the items I just bought. Within minutes a lady walked by, then paused at the garbage can. I was only about three feet away and I greeted her so as not to be awkward. She ignored me and instead rummaged inside the trash can. She came up with a bit of treasure - the owners manual for the battery bank I had just purchased! She flipped through a few pages, dropped it in her bag, and walked away. Some mysteries may never be solved.
I could only take the sitting still for so long and eventually packed every thing up without fully charging the electronics. I started the journey with a 10,000mAh battery pack and the one I just purchased showed half full; double my planned capacity sounded great! I threw away one last item, the iPhone cable which came with the wall charger I just purchased? Yeah it didn’t work right out of the box. I was less than 30 feet from the customer service desk but I cared only about the clock.
Invigorated, I wheeled away from Target back into the rain. It was growing later in the day which meant commuter traffic and I needed to return to the XWA route where I left it along a busy road, so I switched on my headlight for safety - it flickered and went out. Sunk. I was sunk. All this time and energy and my dynamo still didn’t work?? Except now I had calories and anger so I started troubleshooting instead of feeling bad for myself. I unplugged things and plugged them in a different order until I discovered the real problem, which wasn’t a problem at all, just the third sleep deprived mistake I made.
When I first had the dynamo wheelset built, I tested it’s function on an overnight ride with backup lights just in case. I discovered the light would stop flickering and provide a constant beam around 9mph. With the light off, I could charge devices above the same speed threshold. I found during this trip if I wanted to do BOTH at the same time, I had to be traveling at least 19mph; that just doesn’t happen very often when riding a loaded bike off-road. What am I saying? Nothing was wrong with my dynamo, I just forgot that I had the battery pack plugged in to “trickle charge” during the first day, so when I switched my headlight on while climbing (you guessed it, less than 19mph) all it did was flicker. I should have picked up on this later on that first night because the light worked great going downhill (well above 19mph)! The battery pack was powering the headlight for part of the night, but this requires a second cable to be plugged in, and I had unplugged it several times fussing with the light to get it working, which coincidentally happened during the downhill stretches.
WOW. I felt so stupid I should say it backward - WOW. Standing in the rain in the Target parking lot I unplugged my battery pack and the headlight worked great. I felt really stupid, but at least I could continue on this adventure that was XWA and I resolved to do so. I was so at peace with my stupidity, I stopped my activity on the Garmin, uploaded the entire XWA route like I should have done back in Edmonds, and wheeled out of the parking lot, my phone once more in my jersey pocket where it belonged, it’s navigation duties complete for the day.
I estimate that charging fiasco cost me about $150 and 4 hours of XWA time I’d never get back, if you measure from the ferry. But, I was back on route. In my head, EVERYONE must have passed me by now. I paused at some unknown wooded section of trail I’d somehow never ridden, only miles from home, and checked the trackleaders page finally - only one person had passed! Nat was on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail not so far ahead! I was so excited - my spirits lifted and I refocused on my plan, to push through to Ellensburg before sleeping.
That didn’t last long. I was for sure tired and it kept raining. Though not a hard rain, dusk brought a chill to the air I wasn’t happy with. Lo confirmed my thoughts via text message and I decided to call it a day in North Bend. By the time I rolled into the motel parking lot, the rain had picked up. The next leg of the route led up to Snoqualmie Pass which boasts a ski resort. In the rain it would be cold and miserable and I had already lost a bunch of time:
“please sir, do you have a room?”
“yes! (the one next to the drunken party I can see from here but won’t do anything about and you’re welcome)”
I locked the bike in the room, added some layers, and walked across the street to the North Bend Bar and Grill for some real food. I didn’t take a photo, but I think I had the fish and chips. Looking back, for some reason I only took two photos on day two. Glad Jessica and Michael were around!
I used earplugs and slept like a rock in that motel; if the drunk party next door made noise, I didn’t hear it!
I can’t recall if I set an alarm that night, but I don’t think so. Either way I slept for an incredible eight hours. This was never part of the plan. I was supposed to spend the first 48 hours beating myself to pieces to get to Ellensburg. Before the event I purchased a Garmin Vivosmart 4 to track my sleep cycles and find out truly how little I could get away with and still be refreshed. No spoilers here, but the result was a lot less than 8 hours! There wasn’t a lot of thought that went into this decision, but I think I just realized I’d beaten myself up pretty hard for the mistakes and just needed to hit the reset button to continue to enjoy the event.
Click the link for the next segment:
Day Three: Surviving the Colockum