02 September 2012

Rocky Mountain 1200 day 3 and 4

Rocky Mountain 1200 - day 3 and 4

At 1.45 A friendly controller gently wiggled my toes and woke me up from my 4.5 hours of incredibly deep sleep - deep space deep sleep if there is such a thing. I felt fresh and ready to go - but all good things start with a big breakfast! So I went to the dining area and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and several cups of coffee before I was off towards Revelstoke around 2.45, some 145 km down the road. It was overcast and really dark as soon as I got outside of Golden, but again I was taken aback by how well the Edelux could lit up the road. It was truly a joy to ride in the night with the Edelux and the soft Grand Bois tires. I shifted in the saddle - my saddle soar was beginning to make itself known a bit, despite liberal use of body glide. Oh well, I could at least see an end to it all... 

The road to Revelstoke was mostly downhill, except for 2 minor passes, each ascending roughly 300 meters. Coming down the first pass I ran into a lot of mist and fog, so I had to stop and put on extra layers. The chill lasted for an hour or so until I began the climb up the last pass, Rogers Pass. It was a delight to climb as it was now broad daylight though with only a few misty areas here and there so I quickly had to stop and undress a bit again. There was a stretch halfway or so up the pass where the road had been passed through 4 tunnels during the course of a few km. The sound from passing cars and trucks filled the tunnel with reverberating sounds when passing and it made it feel a bit otherworldly to ride through them although none of them were very long, a km at the most. At the top of Rogers pass there was an impromptu service control. Several Rando’s were there and I pulled over as well to sit down for a cup of coffee and a banana. Rogers Pass marked the end of any serious climbing on the ride - it was now downhill all the way to Revelstoke and I was seriously looking forward to that :-)  

Gary Prince, also from SIR, was at the control as well. He had DNF’ed a day or so earlier as he was too cold to continue on from Jasper. However, when the car he was in had crested Sunwapta Pass in the afternoon sun he got out so that he could complete the rest of the ride now that he was warm and able to ride again. Good for him! 

After a few minutes I was off again and the road almost immediately descended. I was now going downhill in the sunshine with a tailwind. What a difference to the previous days! The ride photographer passed me several times in his car and took pictures of me and the other riders. There were a bunch of us spread out over a few km, so some other riders were always visible ahead or behind. In randonneuring, you can ride dozens of km being 100-200 m behind another rider because the two of you don’t ride at *exactly* the same pace. For me, that is the only possible way I can ride long distances with somebody else: if our paces are exactly the same when climbing, descending or riding on the flats. If the ride partner’s pace is higher, just by a tiny amount, it wears me out physically over the course of a 1200 km ride, and if partner’s pace is lower I get extremely impatient after a few hours. I usually ride alone for a large part of the ride and then catch up with people in the controls instead.
Ole Ole
Climbing a hill before Revelstoke. Photo by Stephen Hinde, RM 1200 photographer.

The sun started to feel *really* hot, and it was still early morning-ish. I stopped to get rid of some more layers, but kept the arm warmers on for now - that way I wouldn’t have to use sunscreen yet. Once again the photographer came around and took a few pictures. We chatted a bit before I rolled on again; he was pleased with the weather too - better to get nice shots when it’s not raining cats and dogs and there’s road spray all over the place. Soon I rolled into Revelstoke and a late morning breakfast / early lunch - it was shortly after 10, so it had taken some 7 hours to ride to Revelstoke from Golden. 911 km down, 294 km to go. Ha, less than a 300 k ride, which I could normally do in 14 hours or so w/o becoming exhausted. Not bad at all :-)
Shedding layers outside of Revelstoke. Picture by Stephen Hinde, RM 1200 photographer.

I reveled in the hospitality of the Revelstoke controllers. I had a big breakfast consisting of pancakes, eggs, bacon, ham, coffee, coke and juice. Kathy Twitchell was there; she and I had worked the Cascade 1200 ride a month earlier in WA and had good fun doing that. Her husband was riding the RM 1200 as well, and he had also ridden the Cascade 1200 in June. As I sat down with my meal somebody poked me on the shoulder. It was Seana whom I hadn’t seen since a couple of hours after the start Sunday evening. She as well had abandoned at Beauty Creek due to her knees acting up in the cold and was now en route to Kamloops in one of the volunteer vehicles. It wasn’t the first time that somebody had talked about knee problems. If your knees get cold you’re toast on a long ride like this. It made me really glad that I had my RainLegs, which had always kept my knees warm, dry and toasty even in freezing temperatures, rain, snow and sleet. James was there as well. We had ridden together from Kamloops to Clearwater on the first day. He had abandoned at Valemount due to the cold and rain and was getting a ride back to Kamloops in the same vehicle as Seana. Too bad; the weather was getting really sunny and warm now, and supposed to stay like this through the end of the ride.

After an hour I was ready to take off again. I walked outside and immediately felt the heat from the sun - and it wasn’t even noon yet! I took of as many layers as I could, including the undershirt but again left the arm warmers on so I didn’t have to apply sun screen. Since the start of the ride I had been wearing a woolen jersey, but I was now getting concerned that I was in for a real scorcher on the 126 km stretch to Armstrong. As comfortable as wool is when it’s cold, it can cause serious overheating when riding in the sun. However, as my nearest non-wool jersey was in my drop bag in Golden, 148 km in the wrong direction there was no need to dwell upon such facts and so I set off.

I felt the heat immediately, most noticeably due to the arm warmers that made my arms feel as if they were in a toaster oven. After 10-12 km or so I arrived at Three Valley Gap, a resort town / chateau of sort with its own genuine ghost town in the back yard. The latter is a relic from some hopeful gold miners that came to the area in the 1860’s and quickly left again after a) quickly building a little town and b) upon further exploration realize that there was no gold in the area. Oh well... However, I was not interested in any of those fascinating facts. My arms were cooking so I pulled over and ripped off my arm warmers - ahhh. On came the SPF 30 and then I was off again, feeling a lot better. 

Three Valley Gap - quite the construction!
The road was generally downhill for the next couple of hours as I rode towards the halfway point between Revelstoke and Armstrong, Sicamous. The ride was now quickly getting out of the mountains, and the landscape opened up a bit more with broader valleys, more agriculture and less forest. Less forest meant less shadow. It was now brutally hot and I was sweating heavily in the wool jersey. My speed slowed down a bit and a couple of km outside Sicamous I was passed by a couple of faster riders. Shortly after I had made the turn in Sicamous towards Armstrong I saw them lying in the grass in the shadow of some large pine trees. Apparently I was not the only one who felt the heat! 

Still, lying down in the shadow seemed like a really good idea and a couple of km down the road I pulled over and sat down in the soft grass out of the sun. Ahhh, I closed my eyes and drifted off for a few minutes while I ate a power gel and had some serious helpings of Gatorade. A handful of other riders passed me while I was resting and we greeted each other. After composing myself for ten minutes or so I felt much invigorated and ready to take on the last 50 km or so towards Armstrong. They turned out to be a delight, probably the most memorable 50 km during the entire ride for me. The landscape had now completely changed from mountains to wide fields and lots of farmlands, all very green and lush and set in a very wide valley. The farmers in the valley certainly seemed to know what they were doing, and it was a striking contrast to ride through the farmland as opposed to the mountains outside of Golden where I had started the day. The view changed every 1-2 minutes as the road turned and passed yet another immaculately kept farm, passing through small villages and feeling like I was getting back into civilization again. Until now there hadn’t been much traffic or other people outside of the controls, but that had certainly changed. It was a nice contrast. Because of the variation in the landscape the last half of the stretch towards Armstrong seemed to go very quick, and before I knew off it I pulled in at the Armstrong control 16.58 Wednesday afternoon. 1038 km down and 166 km to go!

The Armstrong control wasn’t very busy - only a handful of riders were there when I showed up. It was in the local gym, and it was a delight to get inside and out of the sun for a bit. My wool jersey had almost done me in in the summer sun. What a remarkable change from only a couple of days ago - but such is randonneuring :-) Regardless, I sat down for a grilled cheese sandwich and some fruit salad, and 2-3 cans of cokes. I had a drop bag here as well, and I changed my bibs. The saddle soar was making itself known now, but the bibs I had in the drop bag had the thickest chamois of all my bike bibs so I was actually quite looking forward to the next section to Salmon Arms. 

I spent the better part of an hour at Armstrong and shortly before 18.00 I was on the road again. Salmon Arms was only 37 km down the road and it took me about 1:30 hours to get there. It was a quick ride, the first few km were uphill as the road climbed 100 m and then it was flat on backroads all the way to Salmon Arms. There was very little traffic and the heat was dying away in the early evening - it was a great segment to ride. I was debating with myself what I should do a Salmon Arms. Should I stay or should I go on to Kamloops - only 130 km down the road? I would reach Salmon Arms with about one hour of daylight to spare, so I could make a big inroad on the stretch to the penultimate control at Westwold if I left right away. On the other hand I would be finishing in the middle of the night if I did so, and wouldn’t get to see much of the scenery of the last 130 km, and nothing at all of the stretch from Westwold to Kamloops. 
As I rolled into the Salmon Arms control I was still debating what to do... 1073 km down, 131 km to go.

I sat down for dinner at a table where also John Kramer from Oregon and Gary Prince from SIR were eating. Suddenly a 6-pack of beer appeared on the table; it was Gary who had felt the need for a beer and asked if anybody else wanted one? That did it! I grabbed a beer and at the same time made the decision to stay the night and then carry on in the early morning. The beer felt really good after a long day in the sun! After that I was ready for a 5-hour nap, so I asked for a bed and to be woken up at 2 am. Then I was off to lalaland once again.
Salmon Arms
A beer at Salmon Arms :-)

At 2:00 I was once again awoken by a friendly controller and I immediately went for breakfast - bacon, eggs, and sausages - yum! At 2.45 I was out the door en route to Westwold, only 73 km down the road. 

The initial route out of Salmon Arms involved a huge descent into the town centre, upon which the course quickly took me out in the country side. It was jet-black so I couldn’t really see much of the surrounding landscape (no lighting to highlight the features!), but I could feel that the road was gently rolling. I remembered from the elevation profile that the road was mainly climbing for the first 30-40 km to Westwold as we were gaining 300 m in elevation, in preparation for a large downhill on the last stretch into Kamloops. However, I didn’t really feel much of the climbing until around day break when I exited the countryside backroads for the highway leading towards Westwold and - by extension - Kamloops. Suddenly the bike rolled a lot slower - 14-16 km/hr, which was REALLY annoying as there was still some 30-40 km to Westwold and I wasn’t particularly keen on slowing down this much towards the end of the ride. I suspected that the speed decrease was due to a gentle grade on the road - invisible to the naked eye - and that eventually it would level out. After an hour or so at slow speed I finally began to pick up some speed and rather quickly found myself rolling along at my usual 25-27 km/hr, which was much nicer.  The last 10-15 km into Westwold might have been very pretty, but a dense early morning fog made it impossible to see what the landscape looked like. But at least it now felt flat! At 6.21 I rolled into Westwold control, 1147 km down and only 57 km to go - nice!

At Westwold I sat down with John Kramer (OR) and Spencer Klaassen (MO) who had been 1-2 minutes ahead of me the entire way to Westwold. I had an awesome cup of potato soup and a few cookies, together with a cup of coffee. We chatted for a few minutes - quite elated about the fact that we were now at the penultimate control and that some 30% of the remaining road would be mostly downhill! John and Spencer had both had the same experience as me, with the bike going a lot slower. Spencer said the grade had been around 1.5%, not enough to see, but certainly enough to slow you down at this point in the ride, which was exactly what I had felt. I was glad that part was now mostly over! 

After half an hour or so we took off again - no point in sitting around when the finish was literally around the corner. The first 45 minutes or so the road was rolling and then the descent towards the trans Canada highway began. I flew down the hill and onto the highway. A big sign said Kamloops 26 km. It was 7.45 or so in the morning, the sun was up, there was no wind and hardly any traffic. I switched to the big ring and found myself cruising at 30 km/hr with hardly any effort towards Kamloops. John and Spencer caught up after a little while and we rode the last 10 km or so together. At 8.49 we all pulled in at the Kamloops curling club were we had started 82:49 hours earlier - a Personal Best for me! 1204 km done, 0 km to go!

Notifying the entire world about my finish. Photo by Stephen Hinde, RM 1200 photographer.

08 August 2012

Rocky Mountain 1200 Day 2

The 2012 Rocky Mountain 1200 - day 2 - Jasper to Golden

I didnt sleep well in Jasper, which was really annoying. The sleeping facilities were in the basement of a house, covered with sleeping pads. Mine was rather thin so it was pretty difficult to find a good sleeping position. I would doze off for 20-40 minutes, then wake up for 5, then fall asleep again. However, I wasnt seriously tired when the controller woke me up at 1.30 Tuesday morning and all in all didnt feel too bad. After the shower the night before I had changed to new bike clothes and slept in them, so I was up and ready for breakfast in 5 minutes. Just had to get my contacts in. In the rush I managed to forget my contact lens case when I left, but I had spare contact lenses in my drop bags further down the road. Then I walked out of the sleeping facility and over to the main control where breakfast was served.

The dining room had changed a lot since I had seen it last about 4 hours ago! There were wet clothes EVERYHWERE. Every chair and piece of furniture that wasnt absolutely necessary for serving dinner or breakfast for the riders had been taken in use as drying racks. Strings were strung between the walls as cobwebs to dry out rain gear, gloves, shoe covers, balaclavas  (apparently it got a lot colder after sunset!), helmets, leg warmers, knee warmers, arm warmers etc. etc. There was a moist smell to the entire room, the water from all the wet clothes mixing with the cooking smell from the kitchen in the other end of the room. Then there were the riders who had arrived after me.

About 10 riders were sitting on chairs spread out around and amongst the dining tables. The really didnt look too good. They were all wrapped up in the microfiber blankets that were also handed out for sleeping and all of them had the 1000-yard stare like the solider in Thomas Leas WWII painting. One of the controllers was talking to one of the riders Would you like something to eat or drink?. The rider looked at her but didnt answer. She repeated the question. No answer. Then a third time. No reply. Then just Eat? Still no answer. I started to think that it really had to have been pretty cold for the riders coming in after 20 or so when the sun had set. I got a bit worried about my own clothing and put on a woolen undershirt, then 2 short sleeve wool cycling jerseys, then my arm and knee warmers, then my rain legs. I had a quick breakfast of coffee and 4 butter/raspberry sandwiches, put on my rain jacket, helmet, glove and reflective west and walked out the door. I was wearing every single piece of clothing that I had.

Outside it had almost stopped raining and it was somewhat chilly but it was cloudy so it probably wouldn't get a lot colder even if there were still a few hours to sunrise. I was thinking that it was not getting a bit old to ride 1200s in bad weather. I rode PAris-Brest-Paris in 2007 in rainy and cold conditions, and London-Edinburgh-London 2009 in much more rain and colder conditions than PBP 2007. Regardless, I got my bike and around 2.30 I rolled out of Jasper, onto the Icefields Parkway (http://www.icefieldsparkway.ca/index.html) in direction of Lake Louise, 2 major mountain passes and some 230 km down (or up!) the road.

As soon as I was outside of Jasper it was the end of the street lights and it got very, very dark. That didnt bother me. The Edelux gave an amazing light and I really enjoyed rolling along on the totally car-free road - not many tourists in campervans and SUVs at 2.30 in the morning! That was quite a contrast to the day before where there had been some semi traffic on the # 5 highway. I saw a red light up ahead - the first indication that I wasnt alone on the road. I slowly reeled in the rider and passed him. A few minutes later I saw another light and slowly reeled that one in too. I passed time until dawn slowly catching up to riders ahead of me. Then I started to be able to see a bit of the landscape around me. The parkway is supposed to be the most spectacular journey in the world, with glaciers, rivers, wildlife, flora and mountains all around you, changing with every turn of the road. Sadly, it was very cloudy with low hanging clouds and fog banks as I rode along, so I only got a few glimpses here and there of what truly seemed to be a most spectacular landscape. Another disadvantage of riding in the rain ;-)

The bike seemed to go slower and felt harder to pedal. I was also very wet, but not particularly cold - the wool took care of that. A couple of hours after leaving Jasper I passed a motel in the early morning light and for a brief moment my brain toyed with the idea of calling it quits here, check in to a room, sleep in a soft, warm bed, then ride back to Jasper and take the train back to Kamloops in the evening. A few hundred meter further on I pulled over, sat down on the gravel and consulted the elevation profile. I was only 15-20 km from the next control, and the reason why the bike was hard to pedal was that I had gained almost 500 m elevation in the short time since leaving Jasper. It had been impossible to see the road in the dark, and it can be very difficult to ascertain whether youre climbing or going on a flat piece of road. That had played a trick on me. The fact that I only had a a few km to the next control, combined with the realization that I had made a huge downpayment of the first pass of the day, Sunwapta Pass at 2000+ m was a huge morale booster. I got back on the bike and half an hour later I found myself at Beauty Creek, ready for a second breakfast. 533 km down and 671 km to go - almost halfway and it was 7.10 in the morning.

Beauty Creek was a cozy little control. It was in a hostel, which had been completely taken over by the RM 1200 event. Inside the tiny dining room the controllers worked miracles with the frying pans, griddles and coffee makers to produce an awesome breakfast of Canadian Ham, eggs, home made hash browns and blueberry pancakes. I sat down for about half an hour there and enjoyed myself. John Pearch from SIR was just leaving just as I came in. A couple of riders from BC came in a few minutes later. Two Germans, 84-hour riders, were there as well. They had gone the entire way from Kamloops to Beauty Creek Monday and had slept at Beauty Creek. One of them said that Monday had been the worst day he had ever had on a bike. I thought back to LEL 2009 and still didnt think that the first day of RM 1200 had been as bad as LEL weather-wise.

As I was leaving the control the controllers urged me to take some boiled potatoes in my pockets for the climb up to Sunwapta and later Bow Summit. I had never heard about that before, but seeing the big bowl of delicately packed potatoes, 2 to a bag, together with rows of bananas and bags of almonds made me grab some of it all. On the route profile the climb did look rather steep and I didnt want to run out of gas. Also, it was almost 150 km to the next control at Lake Louise and the next meal.

The first couple of km after Beauty Creek were flat-ish, and then the road made a slight turn and it felt like I had hit a wall. The cue sheet indicated that the climb from here to the top would be 15 km or so, but after 500 m I was out of breath and climbing in my lowest gear with the greatest difficulty. 6 km/hr on the odometer - 2.5 hours to the top if this kept going on... The road continued for half an hour or so, perhaps 45 minutes, and I was climbing very slowly up the mountain. Then it suddenly leveled out and dropped steeply for a few kms. I was thrilled about the descent but worried that I were giving up all the altitude that I had gained in pain, sweat and almost tears over the last half hour.

After the steep descent the road leveled out and then started a slight incline. I passed a sign saying the Icefields interpretive center was 1 km up the road. I checked with the cue sheet - only 5 km to the top after the Icefields visitor center! That put a smile on my face. In front of the visitor center I stopped and took a few pictures. It was the first time I had my camera out, and I was more than 500 km into the ride - just goes to show how lousy the weather had been on the first day. I got a few good shots of the Athabasca glacier, just to the right of the road, and had some of the potatoes the controllers on Beauty Creek had recommended. 

Then I continued onwards to the top of Sunwapta. The road felt almost level the rest of the way, and I reached the top in good spirits 20 minutes or so later. I felt pre good about having climbed 1000 m or so since breakfast and looked forward to the descent. It didn't disappoint. A couple of km after the top of the pass it started for real and gravity hurled me down the road at 60+ km/hr for km after km. At the bottom there was a big cloverleaf like turn, the road leveled out for a bit and then there was another descent down along the valley towards the start of the climb to Bow Summit. It lasted for 15-20 km or so, and it felt great to make progress without too much effort. As I descended down valley I could see a bit more of the mountains and glaciers along the parkway and it truly seems to be a magnificent place. Now and then I passed another rando, exchanged a few words and then both of us would proceed at our own paces.

At the bottom I crossed a river and the climb up Bow Summit was ahead. It was around 11 o'clock and I still had a few of the potatoes and almonds from Beauty Creek in my jersey pockets. I turned off on to a quiet forest road and sat down on the gravel. It felt good to get off the bike for a bit, and I had a leisurely lunch consisting of potatoes, almonds and a few power gels, washed down with my Gatorade. It was better than it sounds :-) During my lunch I had seems maybe a handful of other cyclists go by on the road; they all looked like randos. Probably some of the ones I had passed on the way down from sunwapta pass. It was rather sunny now, and only a couple of minutes after I got back on the bike I had to pull over again in order to take of most of my layers and stuff them away. It felt good to be riding without rain gear! The climb to the top of Bow Summit was not particularly steep, except for the last 2-3 km or so. On the way up I saw lots of other cyclists coming down the other side, the first time I had see any non-rando cyclists on the journey. I reached the summit around 2 o'clock and from the top it was downhill all the way to the next control at Lake Louise. The descend was a blast, but i did stop a few times in order to snap a picture here and there of the scenery. It was clearing up for sure, but I had the majority of the scenery on the parkway behind me. Around 15.20 I rolled into Lake Louise and the control. 679 km down, 525 km to go.

When I pulled up I couldn't see any other bikes outside and I was wondering if I was the last one of the riders to arrive... I walked into the control and the first person I saw was Dave, sitting at a dinner table. I go my card stamped and then sat down to chat with Dave. I was surprised to see him here as I would had thought him to be at least 100 km ahead of me at this time. It was then i learned that he had DNF'ed at Beauty Creek. He had left Jasper shortly after 23:00 Monday evening and set out on the parkway. At the time he left it was still raining. Outside of Jasper he had taken a right turn onto the highway towards Kamloops, instead of going straight onto the Icefields Parkway... He had ridden 21 km before he realized he was on the wrong track and turned around. As he came back to intersection at Jasper and turned on the parkway he saw 2 other riders and sped up to ride with them. It turned out to be Seana and Toby so the 3 of them rode to Beauty Creek. By the time they arrived there Dave was too cold to carry on, no matter what he had tried to get warm on the way to Beauty Creek hadn't worked for him and he was unable to continue. I felt sorry for him, but at least i had an explanation for the small number of bikes outside the control: according to Dave around 35% of the riders had abandoned because they were too cold to continue. Once again I thought back to LEL2009 and still didn't think that the RM1200 was wetter or colder. Regardless, I became even more happy about my rainlegs! My knees had been warm and dry throughout the entire ride; they are usually the first body part to suffer if it's really cold and they can really mess up your riding if you're not careful to keep them warm and dry. I only had an impending saddle soar...

There was a tap on my shoulder, and before I could turn around a voice behind me asked Excuse me, can I take a picture of you from behind? Thinking that my looks couldnt possible have deteriorated to the extent that I was now better looking from behind than the front I turned around a bit incredulously Sorry? I said. He pointed to my hi-viz RainLegs: I want to know what brand they are and how they attach so I can find them when I get home. Now I understood; after some 22 hours of riding in the constant rain, and another 10-14 hours in the cold on the icefields Parkway my legs were still dry and my knees were warm because of my rainlegs, and I hadnt had a single chill since the start Sunday evening @ 22:00 of the 2012 edition of the Rocky Mountain 1200 km grand brevet. It was Tuesday afternoon, I was at Lake Louise, a bit over half way, it was sunny and the route profile was mainly downhill for the rest of the ride. I lifted up my jersey so he could get a good picture of me, my bum and the rain legs from behind. Things were looking pretty good indeed. I finished my late lunch and took of for my 2nd overnight stop, which I had planned to be Golden, only some 80 km from Lake Louise, an d a few hundred meter lower - the elevation profile was mostly downhill of flat from Lake Louise to Golden and I was really looking forward to that part of the ride in the afternoon sun. What followed was probably the worst 12 km of cycling I have ever had in my entire life.

The first 12 km from Lake Louise were on the trans-Canada highway, which was in the process of being twinned. Immediately outside of Lake Louise the construction began, and there was NO shoulder to ride on whatsoever. This did not prevent the cars and trucks from going 50 km/hr 10 cm from me and my bike. On top of that there was a tremendous headwind, which made it difficult to cycle any faster than15 km/hr. There were potholes and debris from the construction everywhere on the road. It was awful. It took em almost an hour to get to the end of the construction and the downhill began. I dropped a couple of hundred meters over a few km, and my speed reached 70 km/hr on the descent. It lasted 10 km or so and then I reached Fields, a small town in a pleasant valley, but man was I ever noisy - it seemed to be some sort of railroad hub. There was lots of railroad traffic, and the trains were braking and maneuvering around all the time. I could still hear them miles away on the other side of Fields.

After Fields the road leveled out and I rolled along for 20-30 km or so. Then I saw a sign up ahead 'Ten Mile Hill - Brake Check Area'. 

Truck drivers probably dislike that type of signs as much as cyclists love them - it usually means you get a long break at high speed whereas all the truck drivers have to pull over and check their brakes before going down the hill. The road turned a bit uphill and to the right and then I was at top of the hill and began the descent. A truly massive road cut appeared in front of me and behind it a very long and steep downhill. Yeehaw! Gravity assist is one of the best things in randonneuring after a long day in the saddle. No wonder it's popular with NASA and other space agencies as well. The downhill, however, only lasted for a couple of km and I was extremely disappointed. The sign had said Ten Mile Hill?? There was a nasty steep uphill for about a km or so and then the road dropped again, this time for real all the way into Golden, 12 km ahead. 15-20 minutes later I pulled up in front of the Golden control - 764 km down and only 440 km to go. It was 20.12 so I had been on the road for 17 hours and change since leaving Jasper.

There control was almost empty when I arrived; most riders were still behind me it seemed. I sat down for dinner and had several servings of a fabulous frittata. Then I was off for a much needed shower. Ouch. I had a bit of a saddle soar in the making which made itself known when splashed with water. Oh well, not much to do about it now. I changed into fresh bike clothes and asked for a sleeping spot. They were very well organized in Golden: the sleeping area was in a gym and everybody got their own private wrestling mat - a King size bed in the Sheraton never felt so good. I asked to be woken up 1.45, which would give me almost 4.5 hours of sleep and then promptly fell asleep. 

02 August 2012

Rocky Mountain 1200 Day 1

The 2012 Rocky Mountain 1200 - day 1 - Kamloops to Jasper

There was a tap on my shoulder, and before I could turn around a voice behind me asked ‘Excuse me, can I take a picture of you from behind?’ Thinking that my looks couldn’t possible have deteriorated to the extent that I was now better looking from behind than the front I turned around a bit incredulously. ‘Sorry?’, I said. He pointed to my hi-viz RainLegs: ‘I want to know what brand they are and how they attach so I can find them when I get home.’ Now I understood; after some 22 hours of riding in the constant rain, and another 10-14 hours in the cold on the icefields Parkway my legs were still dry and my knees were warm because of my rainlegs, and I hadn’t had a single chill since the start Sunday evening @ 22:00 of the 2012 edition of the Rocky Mountain 1200 km grand brevet. It was Tuesday afternoon, I was at Lake Louise, a bit over half way, it was sunny and the route profile was mainly downhill for the rest of the ride.  Things were looking pretty good. I lifted up my jersey so he could get a good picture of me, my bum and the rain legs from behind.
Things were looking not quite so good some 40 hours earlier, Sunday evening around 21.30. Half an hour before the start of the RM 1200 and I was still wondering what to wear. I was at the start line, signed in and my bike ready to go. The forecast was iffy, to say the least, calling for rain all night long but at 21.45 it was still dry. I was standing outside waiting for the start, with 3 layers of wool and arm warmers. Roger Holt, the ride organizer stepped onto the road to say a few words before the start and as on cue a few drops fell, then a few more and within a minute it was a deluge. Then we were given permission to go. 100 riders or so pulled out in the pouring rain from the Kamloops Curling Club. Great. I needed to change already, even before the start. I looked at Dave who said ‘Let’s wait a few minutes’. We were under the awning and didn’t feel any particular need to get out in the pouring rain and the wet from our dry little spot. I put on my rain jacket and Sheena and Tony came up to us. ‘Ready to go?’. Indeed we were, so with a 5 minute delay we left the KCC and began the first pedal strokes of the RM 1200.
After 2-3 km we were onto the # 5 highway, which we’d follow almost all the way to Jasper and my first planned overnight control, 446 km down the road. At least it wasn’t too windy. It was raining fairly hard, with periods of lighter rain but it was constant. After 20 minutes or so Dave took off, in search of faster riders ahead to ride with. He always did. I had lost touch with Sheena and Tony and was just looking ahead of the string of taillights up the road ahead of me. I looked ahead on my front light. This was the first time I was running my Schmidt Edelux for real, and I was thrilled with the light it gave off. I felt I was able to light up the entire world. When you ride at night your entire world view reduces to what you can see in your front light, nothing else matters at all, so you might say that riding with the Edelux really expanded my world and the entire ride experience.
I passed by a group of riders tending to a flat on the side of the road. I saw Dave there. 10 minutes later he passed me, mumbling something about helping out in the group he was in. Then he was off again. There was some traffic but it was pretty light. Every few minutes a big semi would blast by, but they pulled over almost to the left so it felt very safe. There was some lightning in the mountains ahead of us. Whenever there was a flash one would get a second or so to see what the country side looked like. One flash and you’d be riding in a forested area.  Another flash 5 minutes later and you’d find yourself riding along a lake. A third flash some time later made you realize you were now riding in the open country side. It was fun to suddenly find yourself in these different geographies without experiencing the transitions you would get in the day or on a clear night. The poor man’s version of teleportation.
I passed another group of riders tending another flat and once again Dave was there! Quite the helpful guy... 10 minutes later he passed me again and I asked what was going on. He mentioned that somebody didn’t have a pump and then took off again. This was the last time I’d see him for a day and a half. He’s a strong, fast rider. 
It was half way to the first control at Clear Water (125 km) and I was now riding with James from Ontario. Like me, he had never before been riding out west in BC and we were both looking forward to see what the next few days would bring. We chatted on and off as we rolled along doing 25 km/h or so. I was hoping to be in Jasper no later than 22 hours after the start, Monday evening at 20:00 so 25 km/hr would be a good speed for that target, if I wasn’t spending too much time in controls and in between. Or had too many flats. 
I was slightly concerned about flats. In the rain there’s usually a bit more flats and contrary to traditional rando advise I was trying something new on this ride: New tires, a set of Grand Bois 700x28, which I had tried out for a 50 k test ride in Seattle and found to be amazingly smooth, soft and comfortable. Another SIR member, Jan Heine, has spent a large part of the last few years testing tires and reporting on the tests. His main conclusion: Fatter tires with supple casings at low pressure roll up to 20% faster than skinnier tires at higher pressures, and the Grand Bois tires roll fastest of them all. Jan has 650x42 tires on his bicycles, and he routinely rides a 600 k brevet in 24 hours or a 1200 k in 50-54 hours. (He is also in better shape than I; it’s not just the tires). However, my Roberts Audax Compact is built for 700cc tires. 700x28 was the largest I had ever had on it; I’d normally have  a 700x25 in the front but now I had the same size front and rear. Makes things easier after all. Anyway, I had no idea how resistant they would be to flats and I had read both praises and complaints about them on various blogs. A couple of hours into the ride I hit a big chunk of rock on the road in the dark with both tires. Wham! The entire bike shook! But I rolled on and there was no hissing sound from either tire, nor any damage to rims or wheels. I was very impressed. The impact had been significant, but no flats of other damage. I eased up a bit and figured that the Grand Bois were probably OK after all. As it turned out, I was not to have a single flat the entire ride.
20 km or so before the first control at Clearwater Ron Himschoot passed us, together with a train of ladies. Ron likes riding with the ladies, or they like to ride with him. Either way, James and I latched on to the back of the train and we continued on towards Clearwater in a pace line 10 riders long. A couple of km outside of Clearwater the rain intensified tremendously and there was standing water on the road, it was coming down extremely hard! Then it eased up and the lights of the first control materialized. I pulled up and parked. Outside it was packed with bikes, presumably all the riders that had left 5-10 minutes before me at the start. I got out my brevet card, went inside, had it stamped, filled up my bottles, grabbed a sandwich and left again at 3:29 Monday morning after spending 4 minutes at the first control. 124 km down, 1080 km to go.
I then began the 110 km stretch towards Blue River, still on the # 5 highway. Ahead of me I could see a few tail lights from randos ahead of me. Occasionally I would catch up to a rider and pass him or her, exchange a few good mornings and then roll on. Dawn slowly started to roll around and I could see more of the surroundings and experience the transitions from hill to valley - no more teleportation... It was now obvious that we were riding up the river valley of the North Thompson River and the road followed the river very closely. Between the road and the river was the railroad and the early morning silence would occasionally be interrupted by a passing train. It was still raining fairly heavily so although the scenery was becoming a bit more dramatic I felt no desire to stop and pull out my camera for a picture. I passed through Avola too early for anything to be open, but I didn’t need anything anyways. I had loads of Cliff gels and Gatorade on the bike and I was very cautious about drinking every 10 minutes and eating every 20-30 km in order not to bonk. Despite the rain and the not-too-warm temperatures I was feeling good, especially as it got brighter and brighter.
The road tilted up and the cue sheet indicated Messiter Summit @ 765 m although it didn’t seem much of a summit. The views were getting nicer nonetheless with hills, mountains and forests all over the place. I spotted a rider up ahead and when I caught up to him I realized it was Hugh from SIR. We had worked the Cascade 1200 a month earlier, he as kitchen chief and me as controller on all three overnight controls for that ride. I rode the Cascade 1200 in 2008 but working it in 2012 turned out to be just as hard as riding it... Hugh had ridden the pre-ride for the Cascade 1200 in mid-June AND the Colorado High Country 2 weeks before the RM 1200. This was his third 1200 in 6 weeks... We chatted for a bit and before we knew it we were rolling into the second control at Blue River, 232 km down and 972 km to go and around 8:25 in the morning, some 10 hours after the start. 
I had planned for a longer stop here in order to get breakfast and the control didn’t disappoint in that respect: Lots of warm coffee, sausages, bacon, hash browns, etc. I had it all and more and felt quite revived after having spent half an hour or so sitting down and chilling out. I filled up my bottles and rolled out on the third leg towards Valemount, a couple of minutes after Hugh had left the control.
It was dry now, but cloudy and it seemed that the rain could start again any time. At least there wasn’t much wind and progress was good, rolling along up the river valley at 23-25 km/hr. After 20 km or so I caught up to Hugh again, and passed him. There was a rumble strip on the shoulder, and a few seconds after I had crossed back over it in order to ride to the right of the white shoulder line I heard the noise of a bike on the rumble strip behind me. A second later I heard a voice yelling out “OH NO, OH NO, OH NO!’. I looked over my right shoulder and managed to see Hugh and his bicycle go off the shoulder and disappear down the steep embankment along the side of the road. Then he and his bike disappeared in the shrubbery at the bottom. I braked as hard as I could and ran back to where Hugh had gone off the road. ‘Hugh, Hugh, are you OK? Say something!’ I heard some moaning below me and there was Hugh, all tangled up in his bike and the local flora. I slid down the slope and pulled out his bike from below him. Another rider had stopped on top of the embankment and together we pulled up Hugh’s bike so we could get to Hugh who was more or less upside down and face first in the dirt at the bottom. We then got him upright and up to the road again. Incredibly, nothing had happened to his bike except the right shifter had taken a hit and had been bent, but was still working. His handlebar bag had come partially of, and there was grass and twigs in drivetrain and wheels. Hugh was OK too, except for being a bit shook up, and after a couple of minutes where we all tried to reassure each other that all was OK we all got back on our bikes and rolled on. Hugh was riding fine, but decided to take it a bit slow for a while and I continued on after making sure he didn’t need anything. 
Shortly after it started to rain again, and it intensified the rest of the morning and early afternoon as I rolled on towards Valemount. By the time I reached Valemount it was raining quite heavily and I was glad to roll into the control around 13:00 Monday afternoon after 15 hours on the road. 322 km down and 882 km to go. Ward Bebe from SIR was standing outside of the control, being interviewed by a local TV crew - he can be seen on YouTube: http://youtu.be/uPw0z-G2H84 
I was glad to get to Valemount and spent the better part of an hour there eating, drinking and drying out. John Pearch and Ian Shopland were there as well, together with Mark Roehrig. Ian and Mark pulled out a bit before I did, and John a bit afterwards. Then it was on to Jasper - the last leg of the day before the overnight!
The rain got worse and worse as I rode north towards Jasper. At Valemount some riders had said there was a rain warning for Jasper, with more than 4 inches of rain forecast for the evening and night, together with thunderstorms. Lovely. That would be rough to ride through. As it is, it already wasn’t too much fun. I was reasonable dry, but my hands and feet were wet. However, at least they were warm. I had invested in new Pearl Izumi gloves just before leaving Seattle and they worked out just brilliantly, keeping my little pinkies warm even if they were wet. My legs were completely dry to, thanks to my rainlegs who kept my thighs and knees warm in all kinds of weather. In Seattle I had commuted an entire winter in normal cycling shorts, kneewarmers and rainlegs down to a couple of degrees above freezing, without ever being cold. They just worked wonderfully to keep you warm and dry. 
However, being warm was only possible if you kept moving. As I rolled on I passed riders here and there who had stopped to fix flats. In the rain it would be a challenge to stop for more than a few minutes to fix a flat without getting seriously cold - the temperature was around 10C or so, so you’d have to be quick in order not to start shaking! 
I turned off the # 5 highway, and onto # 16, the final approach to Jasper. After a couple of hours I caught up to Ian Shopland and after a short while we were passed by 3 very fast riders. I recognized the first one: Nigel Press from BC, one of the riders in the 84 hour start group, all of whom had started at 4:00 Monday morning, 6 hours later than us. We were not even 400 km into the ride and they had already ridden that distance 6 hours faster than we had - impressive! Nigel were to finish in 52 hours and change, sleeping only a couple of hours during the entire ride. 
We crossed into Alberta and the National Park boundary. At the start we had all been issued with passes for the parks, so we could just rode up to the window, smile to the park ranger behind the booth and they’d wave you through. Super well organized. Immediately after entering Jasper National Park there was a massively big sign pointing out that bears of all kinds and sizes were dangerous and that one should stay in ones vehicle if a bear was spotted. Reassuring information when you’re on a bicycle and hails from a country where the most dangerous animal you could possibly encounter on a bike ride would be a barking dog. I had no plans to abandon my bike should I encounter a bear! But I didn’t see any wildlife at all, apart from birds here and there, and after another couple of hours in the rain I rolled into Jasper at 19.29. Jasper looked as a *very* nice place to spend a few days - even in the summer. I’ll have to come back one day, that is for sure. The control was easy to find in the middle of the town, and there were plenty of controllers helping out with the bike, hanging my wet bike clothes up etc. I sat down for a big serving of Shepherd’s Pie and soup, which felt really good. Then I had a shower and suddenly felt ready for bed. My distance for the first day was 450 km down and 754 km to go. I had arrived 30 minutes prior to my schedule - I was very pleased with that given the rainy and somewhat chilly conditions. That said, I had ridden the 1400 km London-Edinburgh-London in 2009, and no bike ride I have ever been on before or after that ride compares in ugliness. LEL 2009 was a disgustingly wet ride and I spent only a few hours (out of 102:30 hours total time) on that ride without wearing my full rain gear. Compared to LEL 2009, RM 2012 so far had been like a pleasant afternoon ride in the park. 
I asked for a bed and was taken to the sleep facility where I was issued with a sleeping pad and a microfiber blanket. I asked to be woken up 4 hour later, at 1.30 and was then off to lala-land. 

09 April 2012

London-Edinburgh-London 2009, the prologue III...

And now, with a delay of only a year and a half, the final part of my London-Edinburgh-London bike ride Prologue...

LEL - the prologue part III
After saying goodbye to Kathryn and leaving Portsmouth, I made it to London and changed to the train for Bangor. After a rather uneventful journey, the train pulled in at Bangor station late Wednesday afternoon. It had been nice to sit back and relax in the train and watch the familiar landscape roll by.  I don’t know how many times I had done the stretch from Chester to Bangor or London to Bangor when I lived in the UK, but riding along the N Welsh coast line had always been a pretty sight; and so it was this time.  The familiar grey-ish skies awaited me upon arrival in Bangor, but so did Ruth & Michael, who had agreed to let me stay for 2 nights in their cozy stone cottage outside Bethesda.  After a quick drive through some country lanes I didn’t even know existed we were back and had dinner (incl. 1 bottle of Becks).  Then it was bed time.

Thursday morning I was off to Bangor on the bus, and was dropped off next to the High Street.  I walked around a bit and checked out the new Debenhams, part of the city council’s plan to re-invigorate the city centre.  I walked up the hill past Time, where many a summer (and winer) night had been spent dancing and drinking, and at the top turned to the right onto Holyhead Road in order to swing by my old breakfast place, Mikes Bites.  

At Mikes Bites I sat down and had their large breakfast with a large mug of instant Nescafe coffee - ahh, now there’s something that Starbucks doesn’t have, even with their snazzy posh Via creation in individually wrapped bags!  I don’t know how many times I had done this before, but dozens of dozens, if not more...  When I lived in Bangor I would usually go out for a 60-100 mile ride on the weekends, and the large brekkie from Mikes Bites always made it possible for me to go non-stop w/o any need for refueling en route, apart from refilling water bottles.  This time the breakfast would carry me to Menai Bridge, along the Holyhead Road path, which I used to walk every day going to and from work. 

In Menai Bridge I had a lunch appointment with my former office mate Mattias. He was still in our old office, where my old corner was now occupied by postdoc Flo from Australia. Some of my binders were still on the shelves :-) We chatted for a bit and then went for an excellent lunch in Stafford House on the high street.  After that it was back to the office and a pot of proper Scandinavian coffee. Mattias being from Sweden, and I from Denmark we had very quickly worked up a reputation for strong coffee when we first started working at the university in February 2005.  And so it was this time as well...! All in all a very excellent day so far!

I walked back to Bangor, took a few pictures on the way of the Menai Strait and general pretty views of the strait along the road up to Bangor. I decided to walk down to the harbour, and had a stroll on the pier, enjoying the views of Anglesey on the other side. Looking towards the SW Menai Bridge (the bridge) loomed, tall and grey. I had always been impressed with the view of the bridge in front of the trees on both sides of the strait. Then I walked back towards Bangor Centre, pondering what to do for the evening. 

Suddenly my phone chimed in - it was a text from Ben. Rather unexpected as I didn’t even know he had my US phone number. But very pleasant nonetheless, as he wrote that he and Vicky were sitting in a pub 2 minutes away and had been debating if it had really been me they had seen on the road from their cozy spot in the Boatyard beergarden!

So two minutes later I found myself in the Boatyard in the sunshine, together with Ben and Vicki and a table full of Pedigree’s. Very Nice! We spent a few hours chatting and working our way through another round of Pedigree and a couple of rounds of Foster’s. 

Later in the evening we migrated up the high street to the Harp where we met up with Ruth and Michael. We got hold of a pool table upstairs and spent the evening practicing our shots on the green cloth while staying hydrated with Foster’s. Around midnight we kind of felt it was time to depart, as I was supposed to be on a train to London the next morning around 9-ish. So there wouldn’t be much time to sleep it off... And as expected I did miss the first train the following morning but I managed to get on the next one and found myself London-bound. Tally for my brief visit to Bangor: 1 Becks, 2 Pedigree’s and 6 Foster’s. Finally I was ready to begin London-Edinburgh-London 2009!

[If you've forgotten what all this is about, check my other posts from the fall of 2009, but who really cares anyways...]