Author Archives: Pat Leahy

Remembering the 2010 Winter Solstice Ride

Following on Kevin Brightbill’s report on the 2011 Winter Solstice Ride we have Steve Frey’s report on the 2010 edition. This year’s ride starts at 8:00 PM on Saturday the 21st of December. Find out about it on the SIR Web Site. Steve writes a cautionary tale of obsession and bicycling in the Pacific Northwest at The Randonoodler Blog.

Solstice – Waiting for the Eastern Glow
By Steve Frey

This past Saturday night I rode the Seattle Randonneur’s Second Annual Winter Solstice Ride. Yes, I know we missed the actual solstice by three days, but for working stiffs like me doing the ride on Tuesday night would make for a rough day at work on Wednesday. Besides, from the saddle of a bike one long, cold, wet night looks much like any other.

The idea of the solstice ride is to take advantage of the longest night of the year by spending as much of it as possible on a bike. It’s a 200k ride that starts at 8:30pm, so if you ride slow enough you can roll into the finish just as the sun is peaking over the eastern hills. That of course assumes the sun does any peaking at all which it rarely does around the Winter solstice in western Washington. The ride was also billed as a Festivus celebration so it included the traditional Festivus pole, airing of grievances, and feats of strength.


About 25 of my hardy randonneuring buddies showed up at the start at Peet’s Coffee in Redmond. Also at the start was a documentary film maker named Dan McComb. Dan is working on a feature length documentary called Beyond Naked that follows some “ordinary” folks as they prepare to ride in the Fremont Solstice Parade naked bike ride. Somehow Dan heard about our ride and decided to incorporate it into his film. I suppose our solstice ride makes a nice compliment to the annual naked ride in Fremont because of the obvious similarities. For instance, riders in both events probably wish they had more clothes on at times, and in both events many of the people who see the riders probably think they’re totally crazy or maybe just dumb. It’s also possible Dan, desperate for material, just Googled “bikes and solstice” and we were the only thing that came up.

I decided to decorate my bike for the event, so I zip-tied and duct taped some battery powered christmas lights to the frame and the wheels. Though it’s hard to make out the lights, here she is anxious to roll outside Peet’s at the start.

The lights were a big hit, especially once we got away from street lights of the city though the high-speed wobble that comes from duct-taping battery packs to the rims is a little spooky on the high-speed descents. A weight weenie I am not.

0341 Leschi - North Bend - Leschi

The route was a big loop that went from Redmond up to North Bend, then through Issaquah, Maple Valley, Renton and up around the north end of Lake Washington back to Redmond. It was about 38 degrees at the start and the moon and stars were out which was a bad sign. Clear skys mean cold and ice.

Sure enough as soon as we came over Novelty Hill into the Snoqualmie Valley, the temperature dropped and the roads turned very icy. I had ridden the first part of the ride with some of the “fast boys”, but at that point they all decided that while the idea of an all night ride sounded neat in theory, it wasn’t worth risking a broken hip or dislocted shoulder for. So the fast boys all turned around and rode home. I decided to press on, so I slowed down and waited for some other riders to catch up. At least if I crashed and broke my hip there would be someone there to call 911. Not long after I was joined by a group of familiar faces including Greg Cox, Mark Van de Camp, Warb Beebe, Bill Dussler and Michael (whose last name I’ve forgotten).

As we started to climb up out of the valley toward Snoqualmie Falls the wind picked up and the temperature with it. We traded icy roads for vicious head winds which, all things considered, seemed like a reasonable trade. With tempertures back into the upper 30s the riding was almost comfortable for the next few hours.

By far the nicest part of the ride for me was from Fall City to Issaquah on the Issaquah Fall City Rd. The wind had died down and it was warm enough to keep the roads wet instead of icy. Dan and his film crew (of one) drove along and filmed our little group as we rode the winding ups and downs. It sort of made us feel like we were something special.

Halfway through the ride we stopped at a minimart for a bite to eat. It was 1:30am and the ride was going pretty well, considering. But as we pulled out the rain started to fall and within a few minutes it turned to snow. As we rode up May Valley road we were soaked by big fat snowflakes mixed with sleet and rain. Lovely stuff.

The snow and sleet continued for about an hour and a half as we continued on down to Maple Valley where Joe Platzner had kindly parked his RV and was serving up hot cup of noodles, coffee and other snacks. Dan and his film crew were there too and they filmed us gobbling down noodles. Dan asked me some questions about why we do what we do and I gave completely incoherent answers which I’m going to blame on the time (about 3:30am), the cold (about 35 degrees) and on my IQ (low 70s). Hopefully none of that interview makes it past the editing process.

Another shot of my bike in the dark:


From Maple Valley on, the ride was uneventful and pleasant. There wasn’t a lot of talking as we were all ready to get to the end and get out of the cold. Led Zeppelin’s Battle of Evermore was playing in my head (“Oh well, the night is long, the beads of time pass slow/Tired eyes on the sunrise, waiting for the eastern glow”). We timed it right as the sun was indeed starting to show itself as we rolled into the parking lot at Peet’s Coffee. I think it was around 7:00am when we finished.

As with all good randonneuring events, the painful memories of cold, rain, snow, wrong turns and endless hills had almost completely evaporated as I loaded my bike into the car for the drive home. Thanks to Joe P for throwing a heck of a Festivus party!


You can view a trailer of Dan McComb’s documentary on the 2010 Winter Solstice ride here.

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Dr. C on the Joys of Volunteering

Paul Johnson’s article on the joys of volunteering appeared in the May 2009 edition of American Randonneur. In it Paul quotes another randonneur who says “but I really volunteer because of some guys named Codfish and Ray who gave me a couple of mochas and a warm truck to sit in at the bottom of White Pass on the 600K last year. I was cold, really cold, …”. That quote was not mine, but it could have been, Paul’s mocha at that same control was a big help in finishing my first 600k. Thank you Paul.

If you are looking for a way to volunteer, Mark Thomas recently posted a list of volunteering opportunities.

Paul Blogs about randonneuring and all sorts of other things at The Dr Codfish Chronicles.

Dr. C on the Joys of Volunteering

By Paul Johnson



Have you ever stopped to ask what the mission of RUSA, or your local Randonneuring club is? This from the RUSA Website: “What is RUSA? Randonneurs USA (RUSA) is a national organization whose goals are to promote randonneuring in the U.S. and provide service to American randonneurs and randonneuses.”

I considered asking how you thought RUSA is doing, but if you are reading this I assume you are a member, so the more appropriate questions is, how are you doing? If you are a member, you are RUSA and it is incumbent upon you to do your part to “promote randonneuring in the U.S. and provide service to American randonneurs and randonneuses.”

Achieving the Goals

Now you might think that paying your annual dues, getting out on your bike and riding brevets, talking it up with your co-workers over the water cooler is enough. By now I’m sure you can see where this is headed. Tact has been described as the art of making your point without skewering someone with it. I’ll be tactful but the point is, you should do more.

Consider that this organization is run exclusively by volunteers. Though the president and board are probably worthy of huge retention bonuses, we’ve all seen recently how that can backfire, so all the high powered execs at RUSA get for their good work is…more work. What do I mean? Well look at our membership statistics, the number of events we put on, the number of kilometers ridden year by year, the number of medals, awards, and other outputs and this can only be seen as more work. In fact, in my short time as a member I have been just amazed at the growth of our sport and our club. My concern is that the number of volunteers has not grown with our sports popularity.

In prepping this article I sent an inquiry around to a few folks to get their thoughts. I asked all the RBAs and a selection of regular, run-of-the-mill members, some of whom are “habitual offenders” and a few who are new to the sport and to volunteering. Here are the questions I asked:

  1. Why do you volunteer?
  2. How does volunteering for randonneuring events differ from your other (if any) volunteering efforts?
  3. Can you relate a memorable event? (keep it short)

What They Said

The responses varied, some were predictable and some were surprising.

One predictable answer I got was that the person just didn’t have time to respond. In my work life I often provide assistance to start up organizations and volunteer groups. There is an old adage that holds true: If you want to get something done, find a busy person. Busy people often have to make decisions about what they can engage in and in this case this person was focused more on doing than on talking about doing. It was a great response.

One of the RBA’s, for a club that puts on a LOT of brevets down south said point blank that if more people volunteered to help out, they could put on even more events. I think that is probably true everywhere. Though your club may put on enough events for you, imagine what it would be like if you had a choice of several different events in different locations on a given weekend in the summer. Sound over the top? Well, let the idea roll around in your noggin and then go back to the RUSA mission and ask yourself how more opportunities might help promote randonneuring (remember… the goal?) It may seem preposterous now but I imagine that just 10 years ago the founders of RUSA might not have believed that there would over 2,300 members in 2009.

How To Get Started

The most obvious thing you can do for your club is to volunteer to help out on a brevet. I recently read a ride report that gushed with gratitude for the help that volunteers offered at a control on a particularly challenging brevet. It’s true that we value self sufficiency but who hasn’t rolled into a control at one time or another and been absolutely thankful for a person who takes the bike and hands you a hot (or cold) beverage, a cup-O-noodles, an ice cold soda, and maybe a beat up lawn chair (or a warm pick up cab) to relax and recover in for a few minutes? If you’ve taken advantage of this kindness you know exactly what I am talking about, and if you haven’t, believe me, it is really wonderful to see that such a little gesture can be so warmly received.

If your idea of randonneuring is just showing up at the start, riding the brevet, and turning your card in, you need to rethink your relationship to the sport. You may take exception to that notion but here is an undeniable fact: If it were not for volunteers, you wouldn’t have any events to show up for!

I like doing this myself. I have noticed, and others I interviewed mentioned that you get a look at every rider: you get to see how the fast fish get it done (I never see these people after the start otherwise) you can see how the mid-packers get around the course and your personal assistance can encourage a newbie, or even an old hand at the back of the pack to soldier on, at least to the next control when they might otherwise have handed in their brevet card.

You will also be taking a little of the pressure off those I refer to as “habitual offenders.” Every club has a small cadre of folks who show up year in and year out to volunteer at events. It’s really not fair for you to just show up to ride and assume that someone else will always take care of the logistics.

Make it Fun

Volunteering to run a control also offers an opportunity to put your own personal stamp on the event. I once ran a nighttime control on a late season 1000K brevet. The riders had just descended off Elk pass in the first snow of the fall; they were really cold when they got into our stop. Mrs. C and I had set up a cozy little nest in a campground, and I’d built a big bonfire. The Coleman camp stove was steaming away with coffee and clam chowder. We had lounge chairs, cuppa noodles, sandwiches, chips and cookies: the whole nine yards. The few riders on the event were thrilled to have the warmth. It was a real kick for my wife and me.

The Dog Ate My Homework

There are a lot of reasons not to volunteer. Most are based on a lack of information. “I’ve never done it before,” “I don’t have time,” “I don’t know enough to put on a brevet.” The list goes on. First, just realize that no one was born knowing it all. There was a time when you had never ridden a brevet before, right? Shoot, believe it or not, there was a time when you didn’t even know how to ride a bicycle. Where would you be if your folks had let the “I don’t know how” defense stand? Now you’re a super rando (sorry, no cape awarded) or at least you know how to ride a brevet. If you’ve ridden even one brevet you already know about 90 percent of what you need to volunteer. The other 10 percent is just details.

You will not be expected to jump off the cliff all alone. I guarantee that if you let someone know that you are willing to help out you will be supported to your own personal level of comfort. Once you’ve staffed a control, you will know almost everything there is to know to do it again alone. From there it is a quick slide down the slippery slope to organizing your own brevet. One more brevet organizer means one less event that the “regulars” have to gear up for. And you gain instant cred: You’ll be one of the “old hands!”

You’ll be on the short list for a ridiculously huge retention bonus when the stimulus package arrives. Again, you’ll have all the help and guidance needed to assure that you don’t fumble the ball.

Probably the best reason I can give you to try this is captured in this surprise answer I got from one of the people I queried. Really, I’m not making this up:

“But I really volunteer because of some guys named Codfish and Ray who gave me a couple of mochas and a warm truck to sit in at the bottom of White Pass on the 600K last year. I was cold, really cold, and I was having thoughts that I might actually be in danger. But there in the distance was a SIR sign with a little blinky light. It was a big deal, and it helped me finish that ride. When I thanked you later for your help, I think you said something like, ‘think about supporting some event too.’ That, my friend was a ‘teachable moment.’”

This was totally unexpected and I would like to say when I read it the moment came rocketing back into my memory. The truth is Ray and I stuffed a number of guys in that truck to warm them up and Joe was just one of the shivering faces with blue lips poking out under a helmet that needed a few moments to get the circulation back in the fingers and toes to get ready to take on Cayuse pass and the home stretch.

The take-home message is that these efforts not only help riders go along their way, but they very likely inspire others to do the same. The need to “pay it forward” is strong in our community and your effort will make a difference in ways you can’t really imagine.

Keep in mind, Paul Revere is not remembered for what he did 9 to 5, but for his volunteer efforts, and look what a difference he made in the world, (Revere Ware notwithstanding).

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Remembering the 2011 Winter Solstice Ride

In anticipation of Joe Platzner’s 5th Annual Winter Solstice Ride here is Kevin Brightbill’s report on the 2011 edition. This year’s ride starts at 8:00 PM on Saturday the 21st of December. Find out about it on the SIR Web Site. Kevin’s report originally appeared on his blog,

Darkness and cold
By Kevin Brightbill

Or: Seattle International Randonneurs’ Winter Solstice 200K.
But I like my title more.

Unfortunately, the boreal forces of late December were none too kind to my crappy (but feisty) little point-and-shoot ride companion, so this recap will be short on images and long on text. Because sometimes you don’t want to watch A New Hope, you’d prefer to read some crappy novelization about the inner workings of the Mos Eisley cantina. Right?

Anyway, the setting for this little jaunt is, of course, its main allure. To my surprise, SIR was able to snag about 40 pre-registered riders; and, even better, most if not all of them were at that IHOP parking lot in Issaquah shortly before seven p.m. on a December Wednesday night.

The first few miles of the day — sorry, night — moved along briskly. I knocked my shifters down into a way-too-easy gear, willing to sacrifice ideal pedaling efficiency in exchange for the benefit of pumping blood into my legs at a quicker pace. Thanks to a small wardrobe of clothing I wore on my person and a relatively tepid 35-degree starting temperature, I actually started to overheat; I thought of taking off a poly/wool midlayer, but at that point I was slowly being dropped by most SIR folks and I did not want to completely lose sight of those comforting tail lights.

I rolled along Lake Sammamish Parkway for a good while, and at a “T” in the road I saw a rare brevet sight: a young female randonneuse. Anne from [some part of the greater Seattle area whose name I forget], who works for a recycling company and is an experienced cyclotouriste and had crossed paths with SIR by chance in Eastern Washington earlier this year (I believe her quotation was “a small army of riders with reflective sashes”). After a little researching, she picked the Solstice ride as her first brevet.

We teamed up, got very slightly lost, pulled into a Shell station, reversed our course, then cut into Marymoor Park. Anne and I chatted through a few miles of multi-use path, but apparently the topic of brevet formatting never came up; when I pulled over at the first info control, she zoomed onward without a word, and I would not see her again that night. So it goes.

Not entirely sure if I was then solely in possession of the lantern rouge honor, I left the info control at a brisk pace and cut through the small town of Woodinville. Gentle rolling hills took me through god-knows-where (my sense of Seattle geography is terrible), and I was briefly excited at the idea of taking a turn onto Spaghetti Street, only to be disappointed when the sign actually read “Springhetti”.

I saw some fellow randonneurs at the Snohomish 7-11 and was grateful for a little bit of social interaction. However, the small pack of four or five which had arrived before me was held up by one rider’s flat tire; I grabbed a donut and chugged some slushy Powerade, then decided to ride off alone and let them catch up rather than linger outside with the temperature now in the high 20s.

The next four-ish hours were almost comically simple: 20 miles north on the Centennial bike trail into Arlington, a control stop at a Safeway, then a u-turn and 20 miles south back into Snohomish. Perhaps in a daytime, warm-weather ride that stretch of a ride would be boring; that night, however, it was welcomingly simple.

And sure enough, the 7-11 party did catch up to me maybe five miles after the convenience store; and, at just the right time, as I was starting to physically and mentally tire of those cold (by then, 25 degrees) and solitary miles. Companionship and a little bit of a slipstream made the rest of the stretch into Arlington a relative breeze, even as my little computer dropped down two more degrees to its night’s low of 23. The Centennial path glistened dangerously with little crystals, but our pack made it out of and back into Snohomish without incident.

Our return route took us southeast out of Snohomish, towards Monroe and later Carnation. The “23” digits in front of me refused to move in either direction, and I kept up with the pack at a steady fifteen-ish miles per hour. My body remained mostly happy, though; as icicles accumulated in my beard, and frost gathered on every forward-facing surface of my bicycle, only my toes were complaining about the temperature.

The small pack was pulled apart by the ride’s only notable climb, heading due west out of Fall City to get back into Issaquah. Eight of us finished with times between 11:15 and 11:35, and mediocre but delightfully warm IHOP breakfast fare was our reward.

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