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The Long Run 1000
“You can go the distance,
As the last notes from The Eagle’s The Long Run faded into the brightening sky, four oblivious randonneurs made last preparations for the weekend’s 1000 km brevet. They didn’t know what they were getting into. As the ride organizer, I should apologize. I really loaded on a doozy. I’m sorry. I should have known better.
I’ve wanted to do the Anarchist climb out of Osoyoos probably since the 1980s when we were triathletes and used to go to the Okanagan to train and do Ironman. But I never had. I also liked the look of Highway 33 from Rock Creek to Kelowna. I’d never been on it, but pictured a quiet alternate to the Okanagan’s Highway 97. Once in Kelowna, we had to get home; how about via Pennask Pass to Merritt and back on the Coquihalla? Sounds good! People, help me out here. The next time I say I have a cool idea for a route, just gag me and toss me in a corner.
We set off promptly at 5:00 a.m., heading east on the Lougheed at easy warm-up pace, north on Willingdon beside the brand new multi-use trail (which we didn’t use!), and east again on the Frances/Union bikeway. Once on Hastings, I said I was going to cruise mode. I wanted to get to Osoyoos; I had a motel reservation, and the front desk closed at 11:00. In Port Moody, I saw that Bob Goodison and Eric Hagreen were still tucked behind me. Great! Seemed I’d have more company than I expected. Ross Nichol had already fallen back; probably less company than he expected. So it goes.
Now; 1000 km brevets: They are long and we rarely pre-ride them. So there is more scope for surprises, for snags, and for riders to demonstrate their resilience. The first snag was on Athey Rd #1 just east of Deroche. The smooth, packed dirt road I rode a couple of month ago had been graded into a loose, stoney mess. Bob didn’t care; his rando bike had big tires. Eric seemed okay, but I struggled with my 700x26c tires. The Dyke Road after that was as nice as always, though.
At Lake Errock, Eric was suddenly off the back. What happened? It was the last I saw of him. At Osoyoos, when I was back into connection in a WiFi hotspot, a couple of texts from Anna popped up: “Tell Eric he forgot his wallet at Manning Park” and “Never mind, he got it back.” There’s a story there, but I don’t know it. Later, when I got to Merritt, another text said that Eric had withdrawn at Beaverdell. Eric was riding his first ever 1000 km brevet. Full kudos to him for giving it a shot, and making it that far. It was not an easy route, and conditions were difficult. If it makes you feel any better, Eric, I also DNFd my first 1000.
At Agassiz, Bob was falling behind my pace. Checking with him, he said he didn’t want to push too hard because it was a long ride and he was only going to Keremeos that day. And I was going to Osoyoos, so I went on. I saw him again at the Hope control; he pulled in as I was getting ready to leave. He leaned his bike up against a particular table on the south patio. I was to see it again.
The climb to Hope Slide then to Allison Pass was not remarkable but for some repaving work going on. At one point, pylons had been set in such a way as to limit drivers’ ability to pass cyclists safely. I chanced by a traffic control crew and stopped to mention my concern. I don’t know that this does any good, but it can’t hurt to try.
After Allison Pass, the road is mostly downhill (except for Sunday Summit) all the way past Princeton and Keremeos almost to Osoyoos. And I had a tailwind! Whoo! I was trucking. Hauling to Hedley at 40+ kph hunkered down on my aerobars, I saw a rock on the road at the last second, actually just past the last split second . . . I swerved, but not enough to avoid it completely. The glancing blow on my front tire sent me into the traffic lane, fortunately there was no one coming from behind. There was someone approaching from ahead, but a couple of violent manoeuvres later I’d regained control before crossing the centre line. Whew, dodged that bullet.
Getting to Keremeos at 7:05, it had been a pretty nice day up until then. Dry, cool, some sun, but mostly cloudy, a near-continuous tailwind: one could hardly hope for better conditions. I was feeling good, and was facing only one more climb: Richter Pass. I found this a bit of a frustrating climb. It went up, then down, then up again, then down again, finally up again to the summit. Was never quite sure whether the climb I was on was the last one, or if there was more up around the next bend. But finally I was over the summit and on the last long downhill into Osoyoos. I was very happy to get there at 9:00 p.m., not only before the motel desk closed, but before dark also.
I learned later that Bob had arrived in Keremeos about 8:30 and left there before dawn, arriving in Osoyoos about 5:00. That was shortly after I’d left Osoyoos, so he wasn’t far behind. The Anarchist climb was fine, conditions ideal: early-morning cool and no traffic. Views were superb. The long descent into Rock Creek was good too, though it was actually a bit cold. Highway 33 started out very well: no traffic, nice road, good views . . . the sun was shining, the birds were singing (or would have been, if there were birds; much of the forest there is scarred by forest fires, which is interesting in itself).
Then I got to Beaverdell. (Yes, this is the place for ominous drum roll.) After Beaverdell, the shoulder deteriorated to broken pavement choked with sand and gravel debris. It was getting hot. The traffic was increasing. It all seemed to be pickups towing trailers. The grade increased: 4 to 6% for the most part, but unrelenting. One would go over a bridge or around a bend and see yet more uphill. Conditions were trying. I’ve never been so happy to see a “truck brake check ahead” sign signifying the summit was near.
It proved to be small solace. The first five km was downhill at 8% in traffic. Harrowing. Then another 20 km to Kelowna, much downhill at 6% or so, which was nice, but in traffic, which was not. Kelowna was hot: 30 degrees. And I still had Pennask Summit to climb.
I sat in a park beside the 7-Eleven for a half hour, eating a carton of Haagen-Dazs chocolate salted caramel ice cream, and texting back and forth with Anna. Unlike at Pateros during the Two Dam Far 1000 two years ago, there was no question in my mind that I was continuing, I just had to get ready. Finally left at about 2:00 p.m.
I still had to get through West Kelowna and Westside before tackling Pennask. This is the one part of the route I pre-rode, and fortunately so. My initial route had gone left on Campbell coming off the Okanagan Lake floating bridge, and continued on the Kalamoir Park trails and up to the highway via Boucherie and Gellaty. The pre-ride showed that Kalamoir was no place for road bikes, and also that my first alternate, Boucherie Road all the way from Sheena, was mostly closed for construction. The route I settled on, right on Campbell, then Sheena, Stevens, and the Shannon Lake Road north of the highway, proved to be a nice route.
Pennask is not rated on ClimbByBike.com. I was surprised. 97C out of Ashcroft is there, but 97C out of Peachland is not. Strange. So I tried to enter it, but the route builder will not let me go up 97C past the Trepanier turnoff. I was able to calculate the rating for the climb if it could be listed, however, and it would slot in as the 15th toughest climb in Canada, just after 97C out of Ashcroft. So there is that. (Allison Pass is not there either, but would not be in the top 50 in any event. Anarchist comes in at 17th.)
From the junction with Highway 97, Highway 97C climbs 1168m in 27 km at an average grade of 5%: maximum grade is 10%. The speed limit is 120 kph. It was busy. It was hot. The shoulder, while often good, was frequently clogged by sand and gravel right to the rumble strip. In short, it was unpleasant. The Pennask Summit sign at the top was the sweetest sign I’ve ever seen, since the Rock Creek summit sign a few hours earlier, anyway.
The trip down to Merritt was small solace. The shoulder was not good enough for fast descents, and the rumble strip was a nightmare. I took to getting in the travel lane whenever possible. But the speed limit was still 120 kph, and though traffic was getting lighter, it was still hard to judge what was coming from behind. Harrowing. I’d thought, earlier in the day, that I could get to Merritt by 4:00 or 5:00. I got there at 9:15. But Bob didn’t arrive until 11:00, and Ross never made it. Ross soldiered on to the Pennask Summit, but by the time he got there it was well after dark, and getting very cold. He flagged a ride.
I felt surprising good on Monday morning. Out of bed at 3:45 a.m., I dressed and grabbed breakfast (two egg/sausage/cheese breakfast sandwiches and a large coffee) from the Timmy’s drive through, and was heading down Coldwater Road by 4:30. Coldwater Road is a nice alternate to the first 30 km of the Coquihalla south out of Merritt. I don’t think I saw a single car. But it’s not flatter. I had 500 m of climbing done before the Coquihalla on-ramp.
The shoulder debris from repaving work along the Larson Hill portion of the Coquihalla had been cleared since my inspection drive-by a week ago. Thank mercy for small favors. Otherwise, traffic was light (except for the big trucks, back at work after the weekend). The sun was shining, but clouds were brewing in the south. A bit of spitting, and I stopped to put on my rain jacket. A bit more rain, and I stopped to put on my rain gloves. By the time I arrived at the summit, it was a torrential downpour, and I was sodden, shivering, and shaking. Recognizing that the forthcoming 17 km, 6% descent was life-threatening under those conditions, I stopped at the Zopkios rest area, thoughts of abandonment in my head. But I could wait an hour.
I spent the hour standing at a hand dryer, drying all my sodden clothes. I begged some paper towels and plastic bags (foot, now dry, into bag; bag into still-wet shoes) from the nice young lady at the truck vendor. I put on every scrap of clothing I had, and I folded my emergency Mylar blanket and stuffed it under the front of my jersey. And it had cleared. The sun was out, it was warming up, and the road was drying.
Half-way down, it was pouring again. But now I ran into a bit of luck: bridge construction meant a 60 kph construction zone limit was in effect. Even better, there are no rumble strips on the shoulder between the summit and Hope! I was good to go, even in the rain.
I rolled into the Hope Chevron control at 11:20, and Bob’s bike was leaning up against the table on the south patio. Had he gone anywhere in two days? Well . . . yes. Turned out he’s left Merritt just a half hour or so behind me, and had passed while I was drying my clothes at Zopkios.
The last 161 km was uneventful. It was warm, and the sun was out. The steady headwind and shot legs made for a slow ride, but we were done just after 7:00 p.m.
On reflection, this was not the toughest brevet I’ve ever done. The Two Dam Far 1000 from June 2016 still claims that crown. But the Day 2 ride from Osoyoos to Merritt, 320 km with 4456 m of climbing, under the conditions that I encountered, is the single most brutal day I’ve ever had on a bike. I hope it is awhile before I go through that again.
I told Bob I’d see him on September 1 for the Loopy Interior 1000. I just pre-registered . . .
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June 27, 2018