This is Part II of my Midnight Century 2010 ride report. When we left off in Part I, I had just reached the top of the first climb and begun to descend back down and around into Liberty Lake.
The descent into Liberty Lake was a fun reward for the first tough climb, and thankfully completely uneventful. I took it pretty easy and stayed on the brakes until I got to the pavement portion of the road back into town. Unfortunately at that point you pretty much have to start pedaling again anyway, but that’s the Midnight Century for you. Lots of gravel descents, but not too many paved ones.
I felt pretty comfortable with the route, but I did have to stop and consult my cue sheet to make sure that I didn’t miss the little jog that takes you into Liberty Lake proper.
Liberty Lake itself was pretty quiet and not particularly exciting until I turned onto Moulter to start heading out of town on the next climb. I thought I saw a headlight behind me starting to catch up to me, but I’m not sure now. All I know is that I somehow turned right on Liberty Lake Road instead of left like I should have. At the time I thought that something was not quite right, but instead of stopping and apprising the situation I kept riding thinking I would start to recognize things. Unfortunately a bike path split off the road and I somehow managed to ride right into the small ditch separating it from the road itself. My front wheel dropped down and suddenly I was doing a half endo over the handlebars!
Miraculously I was mostly unscathed aside from a nickel sized scrape on my right knee and the tip of my left index finger felt bruised and sore. My glasses were hanging part way off my face, but hadn’t completely disengaged from my ears- it would have been tough to ride the rest of the way without them! My bike also seemed fine although the chain came off the chainring and both of my water bottles fell halfway out of their cages during my unintentional bike gymnastics. Feeling relieved, but embarrassed I fixed things up, hopped back on my bike and headed back south in the correct direction.
Although I was definitely alone for the first half of the climb out of Liberty Lake, I spotted a couple tail lights ahead. I eventually caught up to a couple guys name Dennis and Dan (I think) on Quinimoose right before it began to curve down to the descent. Descending is definitely not my strength as a rider at this point, especially in low visibility conditions so I was happy to settle in behind them and follow them down the hill at a safe distance. I briefly lost sight of them towards the end of the drop, but then caught up to them at the Henry intersection. I whipped out my cue card and helped point them in the right direction towards the coming Saltese Road turn off. Eventually we hit a bit of an uphill and parted company as my pace was slightly faster then theirs.
Not long after that I rounded the bend and came upon the North Division Bikeshop guys hanging out as one of their members fixed a flat. They seemed to have things under control and I was feeling good so I just rolled on through and headed into the next short descent. Despite my head start I was confident that they would catch and pass me again relatively quickly and that proved to be the case. In fact they caught up to me somewhere along 32nd. I ended up moving ahead of them at the Linke turn though as they slowed up to get their bearings and figure out where to go next and surprisingly enough I didn’t see them again until Jennings Road well after Spangle.
Linke, Sands, and Spangle Creek
As I settled into the Linke climb the rain picked up again. My glasses started to fog up as I heated up a bit and I had to slide them down my nose just to be able to see the road in front of me somewhat clearly. The tops of my shorts got a bit damp and the small scrape on my knee started to sting, but my torso remained dry and comfortable thanks to my Camelbak backpack. It may have been a surprisingly rainy ride, but air temperature remained pretty comfortable throughout and my tech shirt/Fat Cyclist jersey combo kept me quite comfortable.
I kept expecting the NDB guys to catch back up to me, but there was no sign of their headlights. I continued to press on, but aside from three deer bounding across the road and a couple cars, I encountered no signs of life let alone fellow riders. I was definitely wary of the cars when they passed though as it was somewhere around 4 AM, dark and I was by myself in the middle of nowhere. Of course happened and they drove on sensibly without bothering me, but that was definitely the part of the ride I felt the most paranoid about.
While the Linke climb is not the steepest of the five you deal with during the Midnight Century it seems like it might be the longest continuous grade of the ride. Once you get to the top it’s a pretty good feeling to know that three of the five climbs are behind you. Unfortunately it doesn’t have much of a descent after you reach the top though- just a straight gravel shot that drops you a bit before you briefly curve east and then turn back west and ride for a couple miles to Highway 27.
After a night of carefully negotiating gravelly descents I particularly enjoyed the short ride down Highway 27 to the Dishman Mica Rd because it was paved and I could actually descend without using my brakes for a change. There were no cars or trains anywhere to be seen and it didn’t take me long at all to reach my next climb on Sands Rd.
Sands isn’t too bad as it climbs fairly gradually to begin with. It’s only just before you finally turn right onto Bruna that things really start to get steeper and more challenging. The first time I rode that climb during the day I didn’t think it was that much tougher than the either of the previous three climbs, but that night it seemed harder than I remembered. Thankfully I was still feeling strong though, no sign of the leg cramps or muscle twinges that I usually run into when I start to get dehydrated and low on salt and potassium.
Once I got to the top of the hill, the descent back down Bruna was yet more sketchy gravel with one steep rolling hill thrown in to break up your rhythm. My preference would be to stand and knock it out quickly, but I had to drop into my granny gear and spin through since I lost traction when I stood up. The sky was finally beginning to lighten a bit as worked my way down I was completely prepared for the final Excelsior hill this time around and it didn’t feel quite as tough as it had during the scouting ride when it caught me by surprise.
I crossed the Palouse Highway on Dunn as the sky continued to lighten. Morning was finally arriving. I was still feeling pretty good overall at this point, although my arms were starting to get a little cold. I reached the crazy summer road turnoff gate and discovered that someone had put up a sheet of paper with a big smiley face on the gate and put little tear off smileys down at the bottom like one of those ads you find on a college campus bulletin board. It looked like five had been ripped off already and I would be number six. I paused to tear off a smiley (number six I think) and downed some Clif Shot Blocks as well and grabbed a Clif Bar that I planned to eat once I got to the gate on the opposite end of the summer road.
I generally tried to eat while pedaling as much as possible throughout the ride, but accessing the food was never very convenient. It would have worked a lot better if I had ever gotten around to putting together a bag or coroplast box to put on my little front rack. The pockets on my jersey weren’t very accessible while I had the backpack on and the pockets on the backpack were kind of a pain to access when riding as well. Unfortunately I only managed to have a couple bites of that delicious chocolatey Clif Bar before I started another bumpy downhill and completely dropped it. I didn’t even bother to slow down or look back, but I mourned it’s small brown biodegradable loss for a few minutes afterward.
Elder road down to Valley Chapel was pretty scenic at times, but not too exciting beyond the couple deer I passed along the way. I did stop to put my arm warmers on prior to the big curving descent though. That’s one spot where I’m glad that I passed through after the sun had risen because even when riding the brakes and approaching cautiously it was hard to ignore the potential to shoot right over the edge there to the valley below. On the other hand it would have been fun to watch a fast guy like Tom McFadden negotiate that turn in the dark.
Valley Chapel Road was a nice little paved change of pace after the gravel I had been living on for the last couple hours. Unfortunately it was all too short and within a few minutes I was at the base of the final significant climb of the ride- the infamous Spangle Creek road. I opted to take it head on as I had with the previous four climbs and my legs responded well. I found a good climbing rhythm and worked my way to the top in slow, but solid fashion. Despite feeling good this far into the race it was a welcome relief to finally reach the top and turn left on to Yale.
Spangle to Fish Lake
My relief at finishing the last big climb was short lived. The section between the top of Spangle Creek Road and the Cheney-Spangle Road was the toughest part of the course for me by far. In retrospect while I did a good job staying hydrated and a decent job of eating throughout the ride I think I was bonking a little bit after that final major climb. Perhaps it was that poor abandoned Clif Bar’s revenge? My legs felt fine, fairly strong in fact, and I still had no cramping issues, but my lower back tightened up big time and my neck was strangely sore as well. Combine that with a whole body malaise that’s generally a sign of being short on fuel and you have a pretty good idea of what I was experiencing. Suddenly, what should have been relatively easy rolling gravel roads were pure speed-sucking misery. While the washboard bumps and thick gravel typically slow me down to begin with I wasn’t helped by the soreness in my back and neck. My speed dropped to a paltry 10 km/h as I suffered my way along.
Somehow I kept the pedals turning and got myself through Spangle, across 195 and onto Jennings Rd. Jennings road was more of the same that I had been experiencing since reaching the top of Spangle Creek Road, but I kept going in a slow, but determined effort to get that section over with. Then when I least expected it the NDB guys finally caught me again. They seemed to be in good spirits and one of their members asked how my “pedal” was going as he pulled up beside me. I think my exact words were “I am so ready to be done.” He offered some encouraging words about the hard part being over and continued on with his group.
Despite feeling like crap at that moment, I wasn’t actually in any danger of calling it a ride at that point. I was actually strangely encouraged to finally encounter some fellow MC participants again even though they seemed to be doing much better than I was. Amusingly enough I caught the NDB guys again a few minutes later when one of their members paused for a natural break on the side of the road. They caught and passed me again shortly after that and then I was by myself again for a few more minutes until a guy named Joe with a nifty white bike with an Alfine hub caught and passed me. Joe wasn’t going quite as fast as the rest of the NDB guys and I was able to keep him in sight after he passed and use him to finally pull myself out of my riding funk.
As I tried to keep within range of Joe I gradually figured out that standing and riding on the flats for a few seconds helped me get some of the painful stiffness out of my back. Finally getting off Jennings and onto the Cheney Spangle pavement was a big boost as well. Slowly, but surely I got my speed closer to 20 km/h again. I downed some more of the honey/molasses/salt homemade energy gel combo I had been using throughout the ride and settled into a pretty good pace following Joe as he rode ahead of me by a couple hundred feet.
I was starting to feel better, but I never actually caught Joe until he opted to take a break at the Fish Lake Trail trailhead. I was actually feeling much more like myself again. My back discomfort was working itself out as well and I started to pick up the pace a little more so I could finally get the ride over with.
The Final Push
Once I turned onto the Fish Lake Trail and realized I was on the final push down to the finish I definitely got a second wind. At this point I recognized that finishing before 8:30 AM, was still actually a possibility and I resolved to push the pace as much as I could. Slowly, but surely with the aid of the slight downward slope I was able to get my velocity back into the 25+ km/h range.
At the loan water fountain along that section of the trail I discovered that the NDB guys were stopped and filling up their water supplies. I still had plenty of water so I passed them yet again. At this point I was feeling tired, but good, despite that I was sure that they would catch me within a few minutes. I resolved to go as hard as I could the rest of the way and see what how long I could hold them off.
I cruised towards Fish Lake in the upper twenties, but had to slow for a pair of walkers out with a dog and taking up the whole trail. I let them know I was there (and more cyclists were on the way) and worked my way around. It never ceases to amaze me when walkers spread out and take up the whole width of a multi-use trial like this. There are almost always just as many bikes as walkers.
Once I got to the Fish Lake parking lot I crossed the railroad tracks and found the rocky trail/road that bypasses the Cheney-Spokane road and directly leads to the official trailhead. This route was in much better condition then the last time I had ridden it a couple years back. They actually cleared out most of the ballast rock and left a much more ridable path. I took advantage and continued to push my speed back up.
The rest of the way to my finish at People’s Park was pretty much a blur briefly interupted by the washboard on Marshal Road that temporarily knocked out my bike computer. I didn’t see the NDB guys again until about five minutes after I got there at 8:24 am. I immediately called Mary to let her know that I had finished and would be coming straight home for the big breakfast she was fixing- foolishly turning down an offer for her to pick me up. The ride home up the South Hill to our house was a slow miserable slog. I had no climbing power left and instead of getting home in my usual half hour I arrived their a full hour later. Luckily the breakfast still wasn’t quite ready so I didn’t miss out!
In the end I survived and accomplished my goal of finishing on the first try. The 8:24 finish time was pure gravy, but if I do it again next year my goal will definitely be to break 8 hours. At any rate, if you’re a slightly crazy Spokane area bike rider it’s definitely worth trying the Midnight Century at least once just for the experience.