by Ian Shopland
Millison and I completed the 400k pre-ride last Sunday. We didn’t find any gravel (surprise) but we did find a fierce hill. The start leaves Tumwater and immediately enters beautiful farm land. Usually this section was busy, but at 6am there was little to no traffic. The airport might see some congestion as it is the airshow this weekend. We were in Tenino in no time and then stopped for some coffee in Centralia. This is an open control. The route goes by Fuller Market Grocery, but there are other coffee shops and convenience stores on route. Scheuber Road rolls along and you will catch glimpses of Mt Rainier and Mt Saint Helens. The first info control is at the Claquato Church built in 1857 and is the oldest standing building in Washington. Just after the control, there is a 76 Station if you forgot anything in Centralia.
Where’s Rickie???? Photo by Millison Fables
Once you turn on 603, the route starts in on the rollers. It’s not that this ride has the most elevation, but that all of the climbing is steep. Berry and Tennessee will take you into Winlock. There are services to your left, off route by one block. It is important to note that the route diverges from the “normal” route out of Winlock. Please read your cue sheet carefully. We follow the STP trade route into Kelso/Longview. We will be using the Chevron just past the bridge but it is an open control. It is important to be efficient at this control because the serious climbs begin after this point in the ride.
There are two strange intersections just after the control where the ride skirts along I-5. At both intersections, it is easy to navigate if you don’t get on the freeway. There is only one road that isn’t an on or off ramp, but it isn’t well signed. A few bumps and you are in Kalama, your last services before the big climb. Make sure that you have enough water to get through this exposed climb. There are no services for 6 miles. The road curves inland and begins a puke-tastic climb that jumps over 15% and stays there for about a mile. Don’t forget to turn around and look over your shoulder, there are huge sweeping views of the lower Columbia. The climb continues, but the grade lessens (a bit) as you make your way up to 1,500ft above the river. ***Important*** the control is not at the top of the climb. Continue down the climb to Schmitz road for the info control. It is important to go straight at this point, and NOT follow the main road to the right. If you do, there will be more steep climbing ahead.
Use caution on the rest of the descent, the grade is steep and the curves are tight on this technical descent. Once you are back on flat land, you can get supplies at Woodland. There is an Arco station on the corner at the turn on CC street as well as many different services. The route follows the south side of the Lewis River to an 1876 mill and covered bridge. The bridge is at the bottom of a steep descent and the control is on the sign before you cross the bridge. Enjoy a short breather before you begin the series of climbs out of the Lewis River Valley.
The route brings you into Vancouver and passes lots of services. There is no timed control in this part of town, but we stopped at a McDonalds before the info control. Just after the McDonalds, the route cuts through a park on a short bike path that isn’t well marked. Just after the turn, you enter a parking lot and there are 3 different ways to get to the same trail on your left. Pick one and follow it up the short hill. The trail comes out on Reserve Street along Clark College. Follow this street south down the hill to the fort. We had beautiful views of Mt Hood towering over the historic fort. The info control is on the next corner. After the info control there are lots of food options at the many restaurants in downtown.
The timed control is a well stocked gas station on the west side of town. There is also a 24 hour gas station at mi 152. Soon you will be back in Woodland and just after, start up the other side of Green Mountain redux. The climb is shorter but not any less steep. Hopefully you saved some of those low gears for the grunt up to the top. Use caution on the descent, there is a well marked section (20 feet) of gravel through a construction area. This is the last of the major climbs on the ride.
Back in Kelso, we re-visited the 24 hour gas station for a control. There is hot coffee, sandwiches, etc to get stocked up for the end of the ride. The rest of the ride north was uneventful. We took shelter in the warm Toledo post office for a nap and then coffee in Centralia.
This is not any easy ride. Millison and I didn’t finish until 8am the following morning, but we ran into ‘pre-ride’ problems. We had a 9 mile detour and an additional steep (18%) climb that we removed. We also were held up a busy Safeway in Kelso. The repeated steep hills didn’t allow us to make up any time during the middle of the ride. The easiest parts of the ride are the sections before and after Kelso, so it is important to be efficient through these sections, especially in the morning. There are plenty of places to get services along the route so even in the heat, you should be able to stay well hydrated.
For those who are riding the 600k, we will have rooms at the Guesthouse Inn and standard overnight fare. The 200k section of the 600k is much easier than the previous 400k. It has 4000 feet of climbing and beautiful, quiet country roads.
We will see you in the parking lot at the Guesthouse at 6am.