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. 

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