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Rocky Mountain 1200


Rocky Mountain 1200 km: A First-timer's Report
Or…. A Gourmet's (Gourmand's?) Guide to the Rocky Mountain 1200 km
by Susan Barr

To make a long story short, the ride was wonderful, all 71 hours and 9 minutes of it. Reflecting back leads to a jumble of emotions, but most of all, to a sense of elation and joy that I had the opportunity to be part of something amazing. To make that long story slightly longer, what follows is a non-chronological account of a few of the highlights. And to make the story longer still, consult the event website: http://www.randonneurs.bc.ca/rocky/rm1200.html.

Basic Stats and Miscellaneous Trivia
1210 km; 84 (4 a.m.) or 90 hour (10 p.m.) starts; 94 starters (85 men and 9 women) from 9 countries (Canada, USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Finland, Bulgaria, Italy, and Germany); 7 bike varieties (tandem, recumbent, fixed gear, single speed, hybrid bike, mountain bike and road bike); 75 volunteers; 75 finishers. Controls were at Clearwater (124 km), Blue River (230 km), Tete Jaune Cache (341 km), Jasper (446 km), Beauty Creek (533 km), Lake Louise (680 km), Storm Mountain Lookout (705 km), Golden (813 km), Revelstoke (962 km), Enderby (1076 km), Salmon Arm (1098 km) and Kamloops (1210 km). Approximate distance without a traffic light: about 440 km, between Kamloops and Jasper. Maximum distance without access to drinking water: about 110 km (I heard that RVs were a supplementary source for some!). Amount of climbing: 3 computers provided estimates of 8100 m, 8900 m, and 9500 m (in other words, plenty!).

The Zagat Survey
One of my few regrets about the event is that I wasn't able to spend more time eating at the controls, and couldn't sample everything that was available. The food was *excellent*! Highlights were the meal served at Tete Jaune Cache (picnic tables and umbrellas by a river; mountains in every direction); ice cream and macaroni and cheese (separately) in Jasper; breakfast at the Beauty Creek Hostel (made-to-order omelettes, hash browns, ham, pancakes…); the pasta at Lake Louise; perogies at Golden; wraps in Revelstoke; chili in Salmon Arm…. Blue River was one of the few controls that didn't provide a meal, but this suited me perfectly - I had vivid memories of substantial cinnamon rolls in Blue River from a 600 km a couple of years ago, and sure enough, the restaurant at the control didn't disappoint.

My first bear sighting was between Tete Jaune Cache and Jasper, when I was riding by myself. A rather large black bear loped across the highway about 50 m in front of me, and my heart was immediately in my teeth. I tried to calm down, thinking "Am I ever lucky to have seen a bear!". That worked for awhile…until Bear #2 loped across the highway. I started to sing: "Loo-de-loo-de-loo, bears please stay away from Su(san)". As anyone who has heard my singing voice will attest, this was undoubtedly a terrifying experience to any life form (wild or otherwise), and that was the end of my bear sightings for the evening. Later on, however, we saw numerous elk and moose, as well as another black bear. Several riders saw a grizzly bear near Lake Louise.

Through the years, riders on the Rocky have experienced virtually everything that can be found in the weather god's arsenal, including snow, sleet and heavy rain. That was what worried me as I prepared for the ride, and those worries were given further weight by Ken Bonner's experience a couple of weeks before the ride. He'd ridden a 600 km in the Rockies, with steady hard rain, a HIGH of 8oC (46o F) and a howling north wind. So I packed all my "arctic gear", which turned out to be completely unnecessary. Instead, we had near record-breaking heat and blazing sunshine.

Amazing, glorious, awesome, spectacular, achingly beautiful… None of these words do justice to the scenery we saw. Even when grinding up hills with the speedometer well into single digits, the scenery was magnificent, and served as a wonderful distraction to fatigue. Bow Lake - a brilliant turquoise blue, with a backdrop of soaring mountains - almost too beautiful to be real. Rogers Pass - snow-capped peaks in every direction, memories of Roger Street [note 1] brimming up in my heart. Mara Lake as the sun began to set. The Northern Lights shimmering and dancing across the night sky. Kodak moments to last a lifetime.

One of the good things about the Rocky Mountain 1200 is the lack of navigational skills required to follow the route: as someone said, "If you're on a road, you're on THE road". Unfortunately, at least along the Trans Canada Highway, so is a lot of traffic. For the most part, though, the roads were fine, with wide shoulders, and courteous traffic. But the frost heaves on the Icefields Highway became a bit tiresome (ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk), the rumble strips that appeared and disappeared randomly tended to catch one's attention, and the 'crevasses' on the shoulder between Lake Louise and Golden kept riding at night exciting.

When registering for the Rocky, the registration form requests that riders indicate whether they plan to sleep at controls or at nearby motels. The third alternative was to check off "Sleep? Who needs it?" Accommodations at the controls were reportedly very good: dark, quiet rooms separate from the main control, with sleeping mats and blankets provided, and volunteers who would wake you at the requested time. I opted for the nearby motels, and managed to get 2-3 hours of sleep in each of Jasper and Golden. I would have had another hour in Jasper, but the deterioration in my mental skills prevented that. Here's why: The event stayed on Pacific time, even though Jasper was in the Mountain time zone. I set my wrist watch (that stayed on Pacific time) to go off at 4:15 a.m., and decided to set the alarm in the hotel as a back-up. I knew that it needed to be set for an hour different, but made the wrong decision - it went off at 3:15 a.m. 'event time'. ("Sleep? Who needs it?")

Scary Stuff
Just after leaving Tete Jaune Cache, a police car went by, siren screaming, followed shortly thereafter by an ambulance. My first thought was "Please, don't let it be a cyclist". But it was. Melanie Ashby, from Miami, had hit a hole in the road and crashed. When I went by, she was unconscious and being stabilized to be airlifted back to Kamloops. Fortunately, she had no serious injuries, but her accident was a terrifying reminder of how quickly things can go wrong.

Mind and Body
Before the event started, I felt as if I was jumping into an abyss: it's a long way between the 600 km ride I'd done during the brevet series and 1200 km. But as it turned out, the abyss wasn't as bad as I had feared, and I had a very soft landing. I actually enjoyed almost the whole ride, which I hadn't thought would be possible. On the physical side, I had little to complain about -- several of us vied for bragging rights about whose rear end had lost the most skin, and a week after the ride, my palms are still numb and my thumb-forefinger control is sub par. By any account, a minor price to pay.

It's hard - no, it's actually impossible - to say enough about the organizers (Susan Allen, Doug Latournell, and Sharon Street) and the 75 volunteers who made this event a reality. I was overwhelmed by their support; heartfelt thanks go to one and all. There were also a number of remarkable riders. Ken Bonner, our 61-yr-young legend, finished in 52:20 with NO SLEEP. He came within 18 minutes of the course record, and in true randonneuring spirit, said that he "might have picked up the pace a bit if he'd known what the record was". Ken, along with Mike Sturgill (45, Phoenix, AZ 58:32), Landon Beachy (52, Kalona, IA 68.29) and Jim Joy, 55 (Minneapolis, MN 68:34) qualified for the Race Across America (RAAM) by giving advance notice of their intent to use the ride as a RAAM qualifier and finishing in less than 65 hours (age <50) or 70 hours (age 50-59). Also noteworthy were Manfred Kuchenmuller and Glen Smith, both of whom have completed all six versions of the Rocky. Beyond that, though, everyone's ride was inspiring: those who improved on their previous best time by large amounts; those who took much more time than in the past, but stopped to wade in streams, take pictures, and hang out at controls; the first timers who were amazed when they crossed the finish line; and those who kept on until their bodies gave out or they ran out of time.

"When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." H.G. Wells

© Susan Barr, 2004

Note 1: Roger was a long-time member of the B.C. Randonneurs with an incredible zest for life and cycling. He'd ridden the Rocky Mountain 1200, PBP, across Canada, and many other rides. He died suddenly in 2003, and was very much with us during this ride.