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2004 Rocky Mountain
1200K Ride Report
Last July I rode the 2004 Rocky Mountain 1200. It is a ride of about 760 miles, starting in Kamloops, British Columbia. In preparation and training for the Furnace Creek 508, I rode it on my fixed gear bike, a style of riding which allows a single gear selection and no coasting. Here is my ride report.
It's Tuesday morning and I'm still waiting for my luggage, including my bike. The lost luggage phone line has been busy for hours, but finally a call comes through to announce that my bag will be delivered to the hotel in a couple of hours. Bag? Not bags? I worry that either my gear or my bike will not be delivered. When the delivery guy arrives, he has only my duffel bag. Another call to the lost luggage finally gets through and they confirm that my bike has also been found. It's delivered later that evening by a girl who's dragged it all the way to our second floor motel room. I tip her for her efforts.
Aside from the hour or so it takes to assemble my bike and arrange my gear, David Bundrick and I just chill out. I read John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany", watch some of the Tour de France, and sleep. We both bank a lot of sleep prior to the ride.
The next day, David and I ride to the bike inspection, which is pretty laid back. I learn there's another fixed gear rider -- Sam, from Brooklyn. He's going out with the 90 hour at 10:00 pm, but I prefer the giving up 6 hours and departing with the 84 hour group at 4:00 the next morning. There's also a single speed rider (1 gear with coasting) who rode his bike 450 km from Vancouver. At the inspection, I got one of two reactions, depending on the nationality of the observer:
Are you f--king crazy?
But Kent Peterson has already established precedent (twice) by riding his fixie on this course.
At the bike inspection, the volunteers are careful to explain that it's a L-O-N-G way between services. To us dunderheads from out east, we learn not to expect to find a 24-hour service station every 20 miles. Indeed, en route I saw a sign that said "Next Services 158 Km".
Afterwards, David and I had lunch with the Kaiser brothers. Our motel was less than 10 miles from the start, but it was all uphill -- some sections pretty steep. I'm glad we got a good rate on the room.
Kamloops (0 km)
I woke up at 2:00 am feeling well rested. The temperature was slightly chilly, but I didn't bother with arm warmers or a vest. Some riders were wearing jackets and tights. I mixed up a double dose bottle of Sustained Energy for the first leg, but would use solid food for most of the ride. For a while I was riding with Scott Ohlwiler, Kevin Kaiser, and Will Roberts, the single speed rider. I was particularly impressed with Scott, because even though he was considering a 60 hour finish, he was carefully managing his speed at this stage.
Clearwater (122 km)
It would have been nice to draft other riders, especially with the headwind, but I didn't want to waste energy spinning to keep up going downhill. By the time I reached the first control at Clearwater, the temperature was still comfortable. I topped off my water and grabbed a tuna sandwich. There's a limit of one sandwich and cookie per rider, presumably so the slower riders have something to eat by the time they arrive.
We'd been forewarned about 2 km section of really bad road around kilometer 74, but it has just been repaved. Nice. The local population, never very dense, has dropped as we see no more farms, just forest.
Blue River (228 km)
More headwinds on the way to Blue River. I'm not drafting off of anyone, but I do better against a headwind on my fixed gear than on a geared bike. We're gradually gaining elevation, but at such a slow rate it doesn't even feel like climbing. This is big, open country. The scale is enormous for those of us who do most of our riding east of the Mississippi.
The scenery is beautiful. We're riding on the shoulders of Highway 5, along the Thompson River. A major railway parallels the road and the trains pass us throughout the day. Despite all the eye candy, the riding itself is somewhat boring. Pretty flat with hardly any hills, much less major climbs. Flat is boring and uncomfortable on a fixed gear.
By the time I reach the control, a Husky service station at Blue River, it's pretty hot and I've almost run out of water. I grab a couple of bananas, a sandwich, and refill my Camelbak and water bottle. For the next 90 km there will be no services and little habitation.
Tête Jaune Cache (338 km)
Around 326 km, I stop at Tag's to get some more water. Other riders are there who've passed me since Blue River. On my fixed-gear, I can't maintain contact with even the slowest riders. Just before the control I've turned onto Highway 16, which will take me on into Jasper.
At the Tête Jaune Cache (French translation: Yellow Head?) control, I notice that Kevin Kaiser is riding with Jim Solanick and a couple of women from Miami. Jim recommends the soup, but I opt for a salmon bagel instead. The facilities are rustic, yet comfortable. One of the volunteers tells me that we're very lucky this year to get a full view of Mt. Robson. For the past five rides, it has been obscured by clouds. I make an effort to stop and take some photos during the climb up Mt. Terry Fox Lookout.
About 10 kilometers out, one of the girls with Jim and Kevin is lying on the road. She apparently hit a rock that had rolled down the mountain onto the shoulder. This is a hazard for both motorists and cyclists. I stop and wait for a while, though there is nothing I can do. Everyone has the situation in hand. I later learn that Jim Solanick had abandoned his ride so he could escort Melanie to the hospital.
At this point Kevin and I decide to ride through the night together. I might slow him on the descents, but after the crash he'd just witnessed, Kevin is probably happy to ride slower anyway.
A short while later, I stop to take some photos of a couple young moose. Some of the riders saw bear, but they must have been scarce when I was around.
Jasper (443 km)
Shortly after 10:00 pm, Kevin and I reach the Jasper Park Gate. The girl at the gate just waves us through, having seen all the earlier riders pass. It's too dark to see anything other than the road in front of us, so the scenery gets unnoticed.
At one point Kevin is in front of me and doesn't notice a grazing elk until the critter raises his head. With antlers of a 2 meter span, Kevin is lucky that he doesn't get impaled. The elk then scurries into the brush.
Jasper is a busy control. This is where many of the riders will bed down for the night, so there is a constant flow of riders coming in or going out. Kevin and I note that David Bundrick is still making good time. I stop for an extended sit-down meal, my first of the ride: fruit, mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, cottage cheese. After filling up with water and Gatorade, I leave with Kevin.
It's quiet for the first time in our ride, since this portion is closed to trucks. Kevin and I are riding at a conversation pace, which helps to keep us alert. As the night progresses, we get closer to Beauty Creek, and the temperature drops -- due to the late evening hour as well as our slow gain in elevation. I tend to babble on at night to stay awake, though afterwards I can't recall what we talked about.
I'm wearing two upper layers, plus arm warmers and glove liners. It's chilly, but not uncomfortable. I'm saving my tights until we arrive at the Beauty Creek control, so I won't have to stand around in wet tights.
Beauty Creek (530 km)
As we get closer to where the control was supposed to be, we're worried that we might have missed it -- the entire region looks devoid of any habitation. Finally a gravel road leads us down to a rustic hostel. Although it lacks water and electricity, the volunteers have rigged up heat in the cabin and are cooking up ham, pan fried potatoes, hot cakes, scrambled eggs, and hot chocolate.
Dave Bundrick had slept briefly there and we met him as he was leaving. We had a nice breakfast and I put on my tights. We were now headed through the Icefields and into some actual climbing. With the snow covered mountains surrounding us, we feel like we're riding through a refrigerator. It's 42F and I'm grateful that we're not riding through rain.
About 10 km out we started climbing Sunwapta Pass (2035m). This is the one climb I was especially interested in, because Kent Peterson had to walk up it both times. There is a steep 3 km section, then a drop, then a less steep 10 km section. After hearing all the horror stories about it, I was pleasantly surprised that it could be readily ascended in my 42x17. Though not a cakewalk by any means, it was less difficult than other steep climbs I'd tackled this year.
Around the 600 km mark, we stopped at a restaurant and picked up some food and water. Our next climb was up Bow Pass, at 2065 meters, the highest point in our ride.
The climb was under the hot sun with fast traffic passing close by the whole way up. I stopped twice just to get in the shade briefly and off the road. Our shoulder narrowed as we got closer to the summit and the grade got steeper. We saw numerous cyclo-tourists with red panniers heading down in the opposite direction. Once upon the summit of Bow Pass, we more or less descended for the next 45 km into Lake Louise.
Lake Louise (676 km)
Kevin and I were joined by Scott at Lake Louise. He'd had a spoke break earlier in the ride, which explained why he'd not caught up with us sooner. We decided that the three of us would try to stick together through the night.
My original plan had been to make it to Golden within 40 hours, but this no longer looked practical. I would have to cover 136 km in 6 hours. This would not be a problem on a geared bike, especially with the 80 km descent down from Kicking Horse Pass.
But weighing the options of making an all out dash for Golden over the next 6 hours vs. spending the next 20 hours of riding with my friends, I chose the latter. I was close enough to my 40 hour goal that I felt I could make some adjustments in the interest of enjoying the remainder of the ride.
It was incredibly hot when we left Lake Louise, but Scott promised that we'd soon be in some shade. He'd already driven through this section with his family before the ride.
Storm Mtn Lookout (Castle Junction)
The route to Castle Junction is really just an out-and-back detour to help fill out the 1200 kilometer distance, and we would pass close by the Lake Louise control on the way to Golden. At the control we just nibbled a bit, having eaten our fill at Lake Louise. A couple of cute girls passed us on the way in, one was the daughter of the control official.
Even at this point, I could have possibly pushed into Golden by 8:00 pm, but given the nice pace and pleasant company, there didn't seem to be much point.
However, Scott had convinced Kevin that it was still possible to complete the entire ride in under 65 hours. This is one of Kevin's 1200K goals. I was thinking that it was possible, but worried that I'd slow them down on my fixed. As long as they didn't mind waiting for me on the descents, or hammer too hard on the flats, I was willing to join them, though privately I had my doubts that I could last 65 hours without sleep.
Just before 6 pm we got to the top of Kicking Horse Pass. I didn't know it at the time, but virtually the remainder of the leg would be downhill (65 km) until we reached Golden. The descent seemed to go on forever. It would taper off for a while, then you'd descend again for several kilometers. The shoulder would occasionally turn into gravel or just disappear.
Golden (811 km)
Just a few kilometers before we arrived in Golden we climbed up a steep bridge, partially still under construction. Scott had a bad time of it and had to stop. He was feeling pretty sick and we had to slowly limp into Golden. Scott checked into a motel there and even called his wife to stop by. I was worried that if Marlene came out to see him, Scott would be tempted to quit. I wouldn't know until after the ride that Marlene had wisely refused to come out to Golden, thus removing the temptation, and Scott had resumed his ride the next morning.
At Golden the mosquitoes were particularly bad and had managed to infiltrate the interior of the control building. The control had a working kitchen, and I tried a local dish known as a "wifesaver". It consisted of a casserole sandwiched between toasted bread and covered with some crunchy wheat flakes.
At this point Kevin and I faced a decision. I wanted to ride with Kevin, but worried that we'd need some sleep before long. We'd already gone for 42 hours, and the next control at Revelstoke was 150 km away. While Kevin lay down, I took the opportunity to take a shower, shave, and change into fresh clothes. Although the RM1200 permits riders to have up to 3 drop bags, I deliberately chose to use a single bag and have it waiting in Golden. My idea was that the thought of fresh clothes and a shower in Golden would keep me motivated to continue without stopping until I arrived.
I arranged to have the same 11:30 wakeup time as Kevin, so we'd be back on the road soon. I think the preemptive nap paid off later, as we were able to ride through the night and into the next day.
By midnight we were back out the door, but were still a bit fuzzy in the head. We got off route and out of frustration had to go back to the control and carefully count off kilometers, turn by turn to get to Hwy 1.
As we left Golden, we were pitched into total darkness, punctuated only by trucks passing in both directions. We couldn't see any of the countryside and there was no frame of reference aside from the white line dividing the road from the shoulder. The night was slightly chilly, though not unpleasant. I had to stop constantly to pee every 30 minutes. At least I was getting rehydrated, recovering from the heat of the previous day.
At one point we got off the main road by following the white line. The reason I knew we were off course is that we had gone for almost a full minute without being passed by a truck. The road was *that* busy, even at 2:00 am. Backtracking, we'd noticed a fork in the road covered with dirt.
We can tell by the sounds of water that we're crossing a river, but never see it. Most of this portion is steady climbing which suits me fine, though it obviously affects our speed. At one point, just before sunrise, I hit a low spot. I've been here before and just back off from Kevin so I don't run into him. I focus on breathing and try to avoid (sometimes unsuccessfully) potholes. If I keep on riding, this fugue state will pass, especially as the sun appears.
An old Roger Miller tune, unbidden, enters my consciousness and won't let go:
sale or rent
About 80 km into this leg the sun starts to appear and I've become more alert. I talk to Kevin, but he's unresponsive. Maybe he's just hit the same low energy patch I've traveled about an hour ago. Soon we're encountering the first of 5 tunnels. The trucks never slow down and it's somewhat scary sharing the road with them in these confined quarters. I jump ahead of Kevin in one tunnel so I can take a photo of him emerging. It's interesting that these aren't tunnels that take you through anything. Their purpose is solely to protect the roads from avalanche debris.
After some slightly steeper climbing we make it to the top of Rogers Pass. At the summit we stop as it is the only store (fortunately open 24 hours) on this leg. I eat some cold pasta and have a soft drink. Kevin's somewhat bummed about our progress. We have been moving pretty slow, but we've been climbing since we left Golden. The important thing is not to get discouraged, as low morale will hurt you more than any physical impediments. I'm sure our speed will pick up with daylight and the next section is a 65 km descent.
Revelstoke (959 km)
I work hard on the descent into Revelstoke. It's finally starting to seriously affect my riding ability as the saddle interface is getting very painful. Kevin is having to wait for me and that's no fun for him. Several riders pass us as I slowly make my way downhill. We pass through 3 more tunnels.
As we approach the city of Revelstoke, the sun is already intense. It's going to be a scorcher of a day with the forecast of over 100 degrees. These two days have set new records. It hotter in British Columbia than in Miami, Florida. We make a few turns through the city and find ourselves at the Revelstoke Curling Club.
At the control everyone is friendly and eager to serve. I order a veggie wrap and some pasta while gnawing through chunks of watermelon and cantaloupe slices. As Kevin swaps stuff with his drop bag, I apply sunscreen and fill my Camelbak with ice. One of the volunteers has updated me with the Tour de France. Lance has won yet another stage (3 in a row) and is unstoppable. By 10:00 am we're back on the road and exit Revelstoke in a slightly different route than we arrived.
About 20 km into this leg, I call out to Kevin. I'm having a hard time keeping up with him. We stop and examine my front tire. It's squishy, the victim of a piece of wire causing a slow leak. I remove the wire and change the tube. We're sitting directly under a hot sun, but there's no shade available anywhere. A passing vehicle offers me the use of their floor pump, but I've already inflated it with my CO2. Kevin and I are both aware of how lucky we've been to have so few flats over the past 1000 km, considering that we've been almost exclusively on the road shoulders.
Soon we encounter bridge construction and traffic is backed up for a couple of kilometers. Fortunately we can navigate past the motorists until we reach a barrier. As the flagman motions us through, we sprint to keep up with traffic. At one point Kevin loses me and waits up after we've cleared the road construction.
I'm seriously slowing him down and things won't get any better. He's given me Ibuprofen about a half hour ago, but I'm in major saddle hurt and can't keep up with even our ridiculously slow pace. I tell him to go on, so he can complete a sub-70 hour ride.
For a brief spell clouds appear and it even looks like we might be in for a welcome shower. Nothing emerges however, and I'm still riding under the hot sun. After another hour I pull off the road and find a wooded grotto to rest under the shade. My first intention is just to get off the bike, but with no mosquitoes to pester me I decide to take a brief mid-afternoon nap. I'm woken about a hour later by a couple of other randonneurs who are looking for a place to pee.
Next it's a slow gradual descent toward Hwy 97A. A dry hot wind is blowing. I ride for several kilometers beside Mara Lake and even consider joining the kids for a quick dip. The terrain is flat and I wind through dusty farm roads of Grindrod as I slowly count off the kilometers. The vegetation has a husky sweet aroma -- vaguely unpleasant to inhale as I'm associating the smell with heat and saddle pain.
Enderby (1072 km)
I ride through the town of Enderby looking for the Enderby Drill Hall. A local assures me that I'm heading in the right direction. The Enderby control is listed as a "mini-control" since it is on the extrema of the route and minimal services are offered. However, one of the volunteers fills my water bottles and offers me split-pea soup. It's enough to keep me going into Salmon Arm, only 25 kilometers away.
Salmon Arm (1094 km)
I'm still hurting as I meander onto Salmon Arm, but comforted by the fact that it's only 25 km to the control. After an hour of slow pedaling, I encounter a steep winding climb. But climbing isn't what's bothering me on this trip. Under the late afternoon sun, however, I'm sweating buckets. After the ride, one of the organizers referred to this section as the "Greenrod Grind". At lot of the post-ride discussion included various deprecations about this climb.
The final control was difficult to locate. The cue sheet listed it as a "Recreation Centre", but neither it nor the road was well marked. The route took us through the backside, past a door with a small hand-lettered sign that said "knock loudly".
Once inside, however, it was nice and cool. I sat down and had some minestrone soup, potatoes, fruit, and several Cokes. The volunteers filled my water bottles and CamelBak with ice. One rider was soaking his feet in a bucket of ice while he ate. I was in no hurry to push on, as I figured the longer I delayed, the less heat of the day I'd have to endure.
After leaving the control, I had to make an urgent pit stop. I stopped by the most filthy 7 Eleven store I'd ever entered, with food and trash on the floor. The men's room had no toilet paper, so I eased into the ladies facilities.
The remainder of the ride can only be described as a slow grind. I was kind of in "death march" mode, just suffering through saddle pain and knee pain caused by my efforts to ride standing out of the saddle on level road. About halfway through this leg there were no more climbs, so I experimented with all sorts of ways to relieve the discomfort. I tried pedaling with one foot -- not practical with a fixed gear. I tried wrapping a spare jersey around my saddle, which provided some help, but the jersey wouldn't stay secure.
That same Roger Miller tune was humming through my head, so I soon joined in singing out loud ...
Finally, I just started counting pedal strokes. I'd get to 100 and start over. After each 5 km, I'd reward myself with a brief respite off the bike and once stopped at a store in an unsuccessful attempt to buy some ice to sit on. Back on the bike counting pedal strokes, counting the tenths of a kilometer, singing in my head the constant refrain, "I'm a man of means by no means, King of the road".
About 25 km from the Kamloops, I noticed two of the European riders that passed me by. Just for kicks and to try and keep them in sight I kicked up the pace until I caught up with them. They were having a problem deciding how far they were from the Kamloops exit and invited me to join them. At first I kept getting dropped, but once I caught up and pointed to my lack of derailler, the Italian said, "Ah, <insert some word in Italian here>!" to the Finn and they dropped their pace on the descents.
I told the Finn that I didn't want to slow them down, but they insisted that we ride in together. It was more painful riding in this manner, but I figured it would soon be over.
Kamloops (1206 km)
Finally, we started descending the last few streets into the Kamloops Curling Club. The bars were emptying and cops were making sure nobody was getting into their cars drunk. At the end of the ride I was offered my choice of Coke or Heineken. I was incredibly hungry, not having anything to eat in the past couple of hours, and expecting at least something waiting at the end of the ride. Nada.
Kevin had arrived a couple hours ahead of me. Good. Even better, there was a message from Marlene to call her. I hated waking her up at 2:00 am, but thought I'd better check in. She informed me that Scott had gotten back on the road and would probably be in Kamloops early that morning.
I decided to find some food in town and located a pizza joint that stayed open until 4:00 am. Afterwards, I lay down at the control waiting for Scott to arrive. In the meanwhile, Marlene and her children had shown up to welcome Scott, who arrived sometime after 6:00 am. Afterwards, she drove me up to my motel where I showered and slept until our post-ride party that afternoon.
My final time was 69:47. I had two 60 minute naps during the ride. The good news is that with preparation, I think I can stay awake and on the bike 48 hours for the Furnace Creek 508. I consumed a total of 200 mg of caffeine (2 half tablets) over the course of the two evenings, plus a couple Cokes. The other good news is that I had no problems climbing any of the Rocky Mountain hills -- though the ones on the 508 will be more challenging. Even more good news is that I've successfully cycled in similar dry heat conditions to what the 508 will offer.
The bad news was my saddle interface. It seriously limited my performance, possibly halving my potential speed on a geared bike over the last 200 km. This was also the most difficult part of the Georgia 600K brevet. By the time I got home, I had chunks of scabs and dead skin peeling off my raw arse. This issue must somehow be addressed before the Furnace Creek 508. Suggestions are welcome, but I already do the obvious things (change shorts, apply lots of chamois butter, etc.)
I was seriously considering withdrawing from the 508 after this ride, but David, Scott, and Kevin said it would be a waste to give up the 508 after all my training, so I will investigate solutions to this problem. Aside from saddle pain (and knee pain resulting from trying to stand and eliminate saddle pain) I felt great. In terms of legs, lungs, fatigue, etc. I could have continued riding.
Lest this report end on a sour note, however, I should point out that I did complete the ride in good spirits, on a fixed-gear, in less than 70 hours -- ironically my best time ever for a 1200K ride.
Bon Courage. Bon Route.
© Jeff Bauer, 2004