With that said, let's dive in.
This was my first 400K, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit nervous in the days leading up the ride. I mean, that's 250 miles! I felt good on the 300K I did a few weeks prior though, so I knew I had a fighting chance. I hooked up with Chris, Robert, and Joshua while waiting for the ferry over to the start in Bremerton, and ended up sticking with them for the entire ride. Jan Heine was there on a gorgeous Bilenky 650B tandem that he was testing for the next issue of BQ. He was pretty mum on his impressions thus far, simply saying "you'll read about it". Not sure who his stoker was, but I heard after the ride that they were the first finishers, coming in at somewhere just over 13 hours. Insane, I tell you.
The ferry ride over was more entertaining than any 6AM ferry I've ever been on, thanks mostly to the high school Jesus choir that threw down some songs on the way over. I couldn't stop watching one kid who either didn't know any of the words, or didn't care enough to sing along. He look really jaded and obviously wasn't as excited about Jesus as the rest of his peers.
After a quick debriefing right outside the ferry terminal, we were off. Unlike on previous rides, I took it easy right from the get-go. The first few dozen miles or so were on some pretty shitty stretches of road and highway shoulder. Lots of debris and traffic and whatnot. I'm just glad that I made it through that initial stretch without a flat. Things got nicer from there, as we headed out towards Shelton, on our way towards Elma, Aberdeen, and ultimately, the coast.
Riding in a nice relaxed paceline with 3 strapping gentlemen made things go nicely, and there was plenty of banter and goofing off to make the kilometers go by. The only mechanical issue was a single flat that Joshua got just outside of Montesano. Here's the gang, during the flat break, plus another guy (Ryan?, Bryan?) that rode with us for bit:
It would be pretty easy for someone to start getting on your nerves after hanging out with them for a solid 20+ hours, not to mention when you're tired and/or hungry and/or uncomfortable. Luckily, none of these dudes seem to be able to rub me the wrong way (and yes, I know that sounds dirty).
After widing our way through Montesano, Cosmopolis, and Westport, we arrived at the coast! More specifically, Westhaven State Park. I'd been there before with Grace on an impulsive "let's drive to the coast" road-trip a few years back, and it was cool to be back there in a completely different context. I got the same feeling on the 300K, after riding on some of the same coastal roads that Grace and I had ridden on a previous bike tour. The food at the SIR-manned control there totally hit the spot, and all the volunteers were ridiculously nice. They offered to take my bike, to fill my water bottles, to make me a sandwich, etc etc. I'm definitely going to have to volunteer on one of these brevets to make up for what I owe to all the volunteers so far.
I managed to snap a picture of the hippies that Robert mentioned in his ride report. The lady with the guitar was not only reeeeallllly stoned, but also very enthusiastic about the sport of randonneuring, and she had lots of questions and encouragement for us.
To steal a Bike Snob aphorism: "All you hippies cheer my randonneuring".
Refreshed and refueled, we headed south along the coast for a bit, on our way down to the town of Raymond. Somewhere along that stretch, one of us spotted a black bear crossing the road up ahead. I tried frantically to grab my camera and get a picture, but it ran up into the woods well before I finished fumbling with the camera. It was only the third time I've ever seen a bear, and pretty odd considering where we were. Do bears really hang out on ocean beaches?
After heading back inland, we went back through Montesano and Elma, hitting the rolling hills of Highway 101 headed north. Believe it or not, I think we were all kind of happy to hit some climbs. Not because we're masochists (any more than most randos anyway), but because it broke up some of the monotony of pancake-flat riding. None of the climbs were too epic, and the downhills were a nice chance to get above 25-30kph and feel the proverbial "wind in the face".
It was shortly after this section that we started to lose the rest of the daylight, and I eagerly awaited the onset of darkness. I've always enjoyed riding at night for some reason, and I was excited to spend some good solid hours of riding in real darkness. We ended up finishing somewhere around 1:00 AM, so I got plenty of night riding under my belt. With the right equipment, riding at night can be really enjoyable.
We stopped about 15-20 kilometers from the finish to get some beers, in preparation for congratulating ourselves on a job well done. While we were stopped, a large group of riders passed by us, and we resolved to catch them and pass them before the finish. Ostensibly, it was about beating them to the finish and snagging some of the available hotel beds that SIR had provided us, but I think it was really just something to get us motivated to finish strong. We hauled ass for those last few kilometers, and made sure that we weren't "leaving anything in the tank" at the end. My legs were protesting, but it felt right to finish strong after such a long day in the saddle, rather than limping across the line.
We rolled in at just under 18 and a half hours (pretty damn good, I think). Beers were consumed, jokes were told and laughed at by delirious comrades, and a few hours of sleep were procured. We caught the ferry back to Seattle at 7:30AM and I spent Sunday alternating between napping, eating, and talking about how tired I was.
I think that during this ride I convinced myself (with the help of a little peer pressure) to do one of the upcoming 600K brevets, and complete a whole Super Randonneur series. Looking back to the beginning of the year, and my riding goals at that time, it seems crazy to think that I'd be contemplating a 600K. When I started all of this madness, I just planned on riding a bunch of 200s and getting the R-12 award. While I'm still planning on getting the R-12, I find myself one brevet (albeit a loooong one) away from achieving Super Randonneur. How can I not attempt it?
Here's a map of the full route for the curious.