Pedalpalooza Solstice Ride 2018

This last week, I participated in Pedalpalooza’s all-night Solstice Ride. In the tradition of ancient holidays where people stayed up all night with their revelry on the Solstices: Summer or Winter. Well, we revel in biking, and enjoying Portland in the summer. We gathered at People’s Co-op on the corner of SE Powell and SE 21st Ave. I was one of the first there a few minutes behind the meeting spot. I thought at first that we would not have many, but then people started trickling in between the meeting and leaving times. Chris, AKA Fool, the ride leader informed us that there would be hill-climbs, that it would be between 35 and 40 miles, that there would be off-trail and stairs, that it would go all night, all over Portland, and was not of the feint of heart. At this point he probably should have emphasised that you need to be able to carry your bike for good distances over rough terrain and up hills, and you should either have a light bike or a strong back.

In the tradition of other social rides in Portland, there was somewhat(sic) of a party atmosphere. We assembled at a park above a nearby school, and about 40-50 people had gathered. Included were people on heavy cruisers and fat tire bikes, with and without motors. We set off through deep southeast Portland, hitting up golf-courses and areas I have never been despite being from Portland. We crossed at the Tillikum bridge and headed up to the SW. Now SW Portland is not terribly bikable. I did once bike downtown from Tigard, yet the way was so convoluted or dangerous that I only did it once. However the time that I did go was the way we went up this hill into the SW neighborhoods, up Corbett where I had before tested the limits of my brakes descending. An old steep cracked road, it was at this point that I started to realize that I could excel at this event, for I made it to the top without stopping. I was riding Eric Drechsel’s Bianchi Vigorelli, and it had grip shifters, racing weight, kevlar tires, and me riding it. I used to be a pedi-cabber, or bicycle taxi driver, towing sometimes over 700 lbs. but I am in no way an athlete, rarely ever been on a team or competed, preferring biking to other excercise even when 11 riding my rainbow banana seat in SE Portland. The most I had biked before this was similar distance with few hills, 35 miles.

Soon after our first major hill-climb we made ourway under an over-pass interchange on the westside, and settled in for another rest and social session. At least two freeway viaducts were high above us, so high that we were in the forest below, with urban lighting cast down between decidous leafy shadows. Everyone was in high spirits, and someone needed a new tire, but fixed it for then with gorilla tape, a couple set up a hammock to chill like baby chiks, as many do also at these things.

We weaved our way through the west-side until entering into Tryon Creek park, Fool warning us that the trail gets really rough and that we may need to walk our bikes for some distance and we shouldn’t fly around any corners. Understatement. As it is a beautiful natural area, it is another one of those areas I have spent time in the SW, and I recognized the trail at night, though it got pretty spaced out, as we had to descend into mulchy trailed valleys and traverse over dirt trail with many exposed roots at every corner. Special mention goes to Mark (Fool, and others) who helped heavy bikes get through the often tight winding unpredictable dirt trail, despite not having planned on doing it, having led a contingent from the Teal Ride, completed the ride, and then went directly to work, getting there just in time to do important science. I will say that I made it easier for myself by sticking near the front, and having a light bike that weighs less than a laptop backpack, but lets all learn and get lighter bikes and do it again(all night long hahaha)! Most of the heavier bikes would have peeled off at this point, except now we were in the deep SW, deep in the forest, in the dark, at midnight, no busses, on a trail smooshed between the riders ahead and behind you, and we aren’t supposed to be there…

Sooo, after we threaded our way through we made our way through the west-side, and descended a rather sizable hill. I am not used to having to go so fast to keep pace in a downhill. I was quite nervous, and my headlight jiggled with the handlebars, and I feel lucky that nothing went wrong. I don’t think anyone wiped out hard on this ride. That and a pesky shoelace were my greatest hazards, but it highlighted how much tiny little things matter on a ride like this. Risk crashing or get left behind. They would wait a little bit, but if you made a wrong turn at that point you would be chasing a quickly moving target with gps through unfamilear territory, possibly with a flat that won’t fix. Luckily that was not my issue{note to self: get kevlar tires for my touring bike!}.

We crossed back over the Steel bridge and headed back out to the east-side. We stopped at Colonel Summers Park for a rest and beer session, and I through out the tarp I had wrapped around my top bar, and collapsed upon it on the wet grass. I fell asleep for an unknown number of minutes, and then I was informed that the fuzz was here, and it was time to pack up. They kept their distance, respecting the autonomy of bike events that we will soon be gone from wherever we are not supposed to be, but doing our part; we hurriedly got our things together and skedaddled. I grew ominous and jokingly snarky as we approached Mount Tabor, but we only skirted her little neighborly foothills. We headed east and north wrapping around for a finish on Rocky Butte. We had stopped at a high school to regroup, and I tried in vain to shove the corners of the tarp that were mis-behaving neatly beneath the cordage I had wrapped around them and not distractingly against my thighs as I pedaled. I also peed, squatting in the bushes as they tore away. I was the second to last one out of the track, and gained distance from the rear, and hand affixed gorilla tape from another part of the bike while I was pedaling, which got it enough out of my way that I could apply a last push. I had seen earlier in the night what my borrowed Bianchi Vigorelli could do on a hill even with a non-athletic gardening forest ninja with at least 20% body fat riding.

I basically just passed almost everyone else from almost the rear. Severen yoo-whooed at the first few of us as we got closer to the turreted embankements of the crest, but technically he had left the ride for several hours to help others with their bikes, but still, good job on the hill-climb and helping. Jeremy was the first up Rocky Butte who had done the whole ride, and then me. About 10-15 of us finished, 4 women, and we shakily enjoyed our success with an impromtu potluck that was curttailed by emerging sprinklers nearby and the lack of a sunrise, as it was overcast and cool out. Other people up there were obviously in attendence of the solstice sunrise, and were likewise nonplussed. I’m into ethno-astronomy, technically I am more academically interested in sight-points and sunrises, but a healthy all-nighter is a close second.

This was the first time for sure that I know for sure that I biked up Rocky Butte without stopping, and also the steep gravelly bit at the top. And this after a 35-40 mile ride! I remember in the book Born to Run the author “Barefoot” Ted, talks about how women usually place well in very long endurace events. This wasn’t really a race, and some people were partying more than others, but the long nature of it is appealing to me, also a good balance between being non-competitive but not stopping for too long. I have been very inspired to do light-weight day-or-night long adventure rides since then. The sobering fact is that not everything is as dry and peaceful as a summer night in Portland, but I revel in these moments as they carry us through discomfort increasing our flexibility to watch plays in the rain and carry our bikes through the forest at midnight.{NW problems 😉 }