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Rocky Mountain 1200


A fabulous Ride through the Rockies
by Bernie Barge

        I went into this ride with a little trepidation having way less than half of my usual annual mileage under my belt. That amounted to only about 4,000 miles since January. One good note was that I got a good solid 1000+ miles in June and that made me feel a little better. I figured that doing the distance wasn't going to be a problem but I knew that it wouldn't be very fast and probably a little more uncomfortable than I would like. With that in mind I took off in the lead group of the 90hr start and found myself the third rider from the front. We sat that way for quite a while and traded "big fish" stories. The pace was comfortable at first but picked up to the point where I thought it not prudent to continue with that group if I wanted to finish. Not wanting to be rude I took my pull on the front. While up there some of the guys behind me were talking about how the pace on these 1200k's always starts like a 200k (they have a point). I'm not sure if they were complaining I was going too fast or too slow but one of them sure picked up the pace after I pulled off. Instead of tagging on the back of the group I slid off and rode at a comfortable pace waiting for someone to catch up or to hook up with someone else tailing off of the front group. As it turned out, both happened.

        I first hooked up with a gentleman from Texas who had his girlfriend providing him support during the whole ride. Then we added a couple Canadians as well as a friend from PA and some others coming back to us from the front. Before we knew it we had a nice little group of about six of us heading towards the first control at Clearwater. During this stretch we hit our first "hills" and found out that I made a rather serious rookie mistake. On my last ride before the RM1200 I noticed my chain had a potentially major problem and I replaced it without looking at the cog-set or even test riding it after putting on the new chain. Needless to say two gears on the cog-set were useless as the new chain would skip right off them. A very bad thing to learn 40km into a 1200k! I ended up doing the whole ride without those two gears (the 25 and 23 I think). At Clearwater we broke up our little group. As is usual at most controls, some people lingered but I wanted to hit the road so my friend and I headed out together. It was between here that he had a few little difficulties with the cold and food. This is also were he saw the Otter with the big fat tail and buck teeth. :-) When we got to Blue River I left him by himself to have a big breakfast and warm up in the restaurant. I felt bad about leaving him there like that on his first 1200k but a also felt that with my less than great conditioning I really needed to stick to my schedule so as to not risk my own ride. As it turned out my worry was unfounded on both counts.

        The section between Blue River and Tete Jaune Cache was mentally the worst of the whole ride for me. The moderate headwind and continuous false flats (it didn't look like we were going uphill but we were) had me in a real funk. I was seriously worrying whether or not I was going to be able to do this ride. About that time a group of four Canadian riders caught up with me and offered for me to hook up with them. That turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. Sometimes all you need is a little company to get you through a tough spot. Riding into Tete Juane we saw our first big wildlife. There was a black bear in the gully beside the road, not five feet from us when the rider in front yelled "Bear!" which of course startled the bear and it ran off up the hill. After feeling so horribly on the previous section I spent an hour and a half here eating and recharging the batteries. I was also hoping to maybe hook up with my friend again. I was there long enough for the control worker to tell me I was there too long and kick me out. As I started out towards Jasper I saw him riding into Tet Juane so I knew he was still making progress.

        The ride into Jasper was pretty uneventful and I arrived there at 7:44pm. I had planed to ride through to Beauty Creek if I arrived here before dark but after talking with my wife I changed my plans a bit. She was spending the night in Jasper with the family and had a hotel room. I didn't argue long. I had eaten and was in bed by 9:00 and slept until 3:30am. I felt really good when I headed off towards Beauty Creek. As the sun was just starting to lighten the sky I heard a ripping and tearing noise and off to my left a fairly large black bear was tearing a log apart looking for grubs. Speaking of grubs, I was getting hungry! The hostel at Beauty Creek was just the answer! The food there was great! I had hotcakes, eggs, fried potatoes and ham. It was tough leaving but I knew there was some serious climbing to do.

        Before you head up to Sunwapta Pass there was a nice little down hill that was interrupted by a herd of Big Horn sheep who decided to cross the road in front of me. That was pretty exciting as I could have reached out and petted them, they were so close. The climb up Sunwapta was pretty uneventful for me. The loss of two of my low gears meant that I had to stand a lot more than I normally do and this would cause me a little grief latter in the ride. Down the backside of Sunwapta I was a little bummed as I was held up by traffic and could only manage 87kph (54mph). I decided to stop at the restaurant at the Saskatchewan River crossing for lunch. This is where I made my second boo-boo. I left my camelback there. I realized it a couple miles out but there was no way I was going back for it. I offered the guy I was riding with five bucks if he'd go get it. He said no! Chagrined, I said my son would have been all over five bucks. How about ten?? Needless to say I was scrounging water the rest of the way to Lake Louise and had sores on my tongue from dehydration by they time I got there. I met my wife there and told her of my dilemma. She went in search of a new camelback for me. Would you believe she found me one at 6:00 on a Friday night in Lake Louise? They didn't rinse it out before filling it for me so the water tasted like plastic for a while but I sure wasn't going to complain!

        At Castle Junction I met up with another friend of mine who was manning the control. Since I felt time was going well I spent 20 odd minutes yakking and was just taking off when another couple of riders rolled up so I turned around to join their party. We had a very enjoyable ride seeing lots of elk on the way back to Lake Louise where we split up again. Just coming into Lake Louise I spied my friend heading out to Castle Junction and was very pleased to see that. He was looking good and I knew he had the ride in the bag at that point and no longer fretted about him making it.

        Climbing up to Kicking Horse Pass I had the misfortune of having my chain come off. I got one shoe unclipped but it was the wrong one and ended up falling over and catching my ankle with the big chainring. That hurt like you would not believe. I'm still swearing over that one! This stretch of road was my least favorite of the whole ride. I had two very close calls with trucks along here. The first was coming down the pass. I had just gotten up to speed (80+kph?) and was about two feet to the right of the white line on a right hand curve when a truck comes blowing by me with the back of his trailer missing my handlebars by about six inches! The wind from his trailer sucked me right up behind him and I was just getting over the shock and starting to get mad when I realized where I was and that I might as well take advantage of the situation and use his draft. I stuck to the back of his trailer all the way down to the bottom of the pass. Since it was dark I don't know how fast I was going at the time but the Max speed on my speedo read 101.6kph so I assume that was when I did that. The second was in a construction zone where I barely got out of the lane before a truck came blowing through there. It's kind of hard to explain how dangerous that section of road was but that was the most scared I've ever been on a bike. That truck never even let off the gas coming through there. Hopefully, this section of construction will be finished before the next RM1200. I have to say that 99.999 percent of the traffic was very courteous, much better than what we have here in the states, but this section of road was very, very scary. I was very happy to pull into Golden and get some sleep.

        I got about three hours of sleep in Golden before heading off for Rogers Pass. This wasn't too bad of a climb but the balls of my feet were starting to complain bitterly about all the standing on the climbs that I had been doing. The second or third avalanche tunnel had a stream running down the side of it. I took the opportunity to stop, take my shoes off and soak my feet in the cold mountain stream. That is one of the joys in life!!! Refreshed, my feet gladly took me the rest of the way to the top of the pass. I rode/talked for at while with John Hughes and Lee Mitchell (both RAAM Veterans). That was a lot of fun listening to stories and getting some sag advice. I reached Revelstoke in the heat of the day. A lot of riders chose to sleep through the heat but being from sunny Ca. the temp was just right for me to head on to Enderby.

        Enderby is a quant little town and although enjoyable I didn't want to stay long and quickly headed for Salmon Arm. Of course, I missed the "unmarked" left turn into Salmon Arm but luckily I was aware of it being there and didn't go too far out of my way. Arriving in Salmon Arm I was in a bit of a quandary. My feet were killing me and I was tired. The control worker here was an absolute gem. She went way out of her way to help out. What I really needed was her to tell me to shut up and go take a quick nap. But, I know she wouldn't do that! She is way too nice. I smelled the barn and wanted to get moving so off I went. Of course I didn't get very far before I had to stop and close my eyes for a few minutes. I ended up having to stop a couple more times for a total of at least two hours before I could keep my eyes open the rest of the way in. So that was my only tactical error on the ride. A short nap in Salmon Arm would have done me a world of good and probably gotten me in a little earlier as well.

The only thing I could have really done without on this ride was the traffic between Lake Louise and Golden but, I don't know how you'd get around that and I have to say that the vast majority of drivers were very courteous? I do have a bone to pick with the road builders in Canada. If they are cutting a road down a mountain and come across a small hill, don't pave up and over the hill! Get them bull dozers out and knock those suckers down! Level em! That's what they'd do here in the states. :-) Also, I have never in my life had such a hard time telling whether the road was going up or down. Countless times the road "looked" like it's going down but my speedo was telling me it's going up!! I got to where I would forget what the road looked like and look at the river and see which way it was running. If it is running against me I'm going up hill, if it's running with me I'm going down hill. Even if it is at 10kph! Another thing the Canadians are good at is hiding towns. At almost every control I'd be looking at my route sheet and saying to myself…"well, we should be able to see the control from here it's less than a click away but all I can see is forest? What's going on? Am I lost? Is there an error in the route sheet?" Turns out that it's right where it should be. Hiding right behind the next tree! :-) I loved it! I wish we could do that with LA.

        In all sincerity I had an absolutely fabulous time. The scenery was top notch, every time you turned a corner there was a vista grander than the last or a valley more beautiful than the first and wildlife galore. The controls were great and the people at the controls were even better! There is a definite advantage to having many experienced distance cyclists manning the controls. They know exactly what you are experiencing and can give you just the right kind of advice and encouragement.

BC Randonneurs, what else is there to say but "Well done!!!!"


© Bernie Barge, 2004