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. 

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