Newsletter - 2004 Archive

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We've already posted a brief account of Ken's LC 1200 which he wrote in an e mail message. Ride Organizer/Director John Lee Ellis asked riders to submit ride stories for the event's own story page. Ken wrote out this fuller account of his adventure for that page (see it here) and sent along a copy to us as well. [Eric F.]

Colorado Last Chance 1200 (2004)
by Ken Bonner

Wh-u-u-m-p! Wh-u-u-m-p! The sudden gusts of wind toss me across U.S. Highway 36 and knock me out of my fascination with the dramatic strikes of gigantic bolts and sheets of lightning all around me. A light drizzle of rain begins. The electric wires are buzzing and the heavens are a constant roar of thunder. I stop at the end of a driveway which leads to the lights of an isolated farm house. I need to think about things!

Prior to leaving Boulder on our eastward excursion onto the plains of Kansas (formerly known as the Great American Desert), John Lee Ellis, brevet director, advises us that the predicted high temperatures will be in the mid-eighties F.; and, there was a likelihood of evening showers. Yesterday and today have been in the mid-nineties F. For some time, since dusk, I have been wondering about where John has been getting his weather forecasts .... maybe "That Old Black" website? However, I have not been wondering too much since I've been making great time with the help of a very strong tail wind. Now, I start to think about the very dark and forbidding clouds which were on the south and north of me ... what happened to that channel of clear sky directly west towards the foothills of the Rockies?

I lean against my bike with my butt to the wind. I've put on my rain-jacket and am munching a p.b & jam sandwich I carried with me. A pick-up truck passes by and I see he applies his brakes, then turns around and drives up to me. "You O.K.", he asks. I reply in the affirmative. "Well", he says, "you are going to get hammered! There's heavy rain and hail just up ahead, sure you don't want to jump in?" "No", I say in my naivety "I've got my rain jacket, I'll be fine! He looks at me as if I am out of my mind and I watch his blurred tail-lights (rain on my glasses) disappear into the darkness and lightning. Hey, after experiencing 20 solid hours of torrential downpour, thunder and lightning at B-M-B just a couple of weeks ago, I can handle anything! Besides, the weather forecast was for night-time showers .... this little event should blow away in a few minutes.

Ten minutes later. Still propped against my bike trying to keep from being blown across the highway. The light rain has now become a heavy horizontal "downpour" mixed with hail. My body temperature is dropping rapidly and the storm seems to have settled in. Where is that pick-up truck driver now? Should I fill my cleats with sand by walking into the isolated farm house and likely get bitten by the owner's farm dog? Where is the culvert I am supposed to crawl into (along with rattle-snakes and other unknown dangerous creatures!) if I encounter a tornado? Finally, I decide to risk the dog, pick up my bike to turn it around, and ..... wh-o-o-o-sh, it is suddenly plucked up from the ground and I am hanging onto it by the cross-bar as it assumes the horizontal position. I desperately cling to it so it doesn't head off on its own into the Land of Oz!

The kind farmer provides shelter, the use of his telephone and stores my bike on his front porch. My wife, Margot, who has been waiting at the next control 25 miles away, wondering when she was going to get hit by a bolt of lightning, bravely drives back to the farm house and then I drive nearly 90 miles to the motel in Byers, Colorado, where I had planned to cycle to during the night. The next morning, clear and cold, I drive back to the farm-house and start riding west once again. Off the bike for 12 1/2 hours. The farmer has informed me that we were probably on the edge of a tornado, as all during the day, there had been reports of tornadoes just north of his farm. So much for the prediction of "night showers"! Also, "Adios" to my hopes of finishing around 60 hours so I could drive to the San Francisco 1000k brevet.

The day passes, clear and sometimes with a tail-wind, sometimes with a head-wind. We have a new wrinkle this year. Instead of heading directly into Boulder on the way back, we take a little detour up to a place called Kersey. Like the end of so many 1200 k brevets, this is probably a very scenic route, but on the dark, rural backroads, one feels trapped in a bad dream .... it's getting colder (I should have brought more warm clothing!) my hands, feet and body suffer everytime we drop down a hill. Please, please, no more downhills! Did I miss a turn? The back wheel feels funny ... it has acquired a nice bounce it did not have a few minutes ago. A slow leak? No, probably just a loose spoke? Bump, oops, that was the rim hitting the pavement. Maybe I can finish the last 50 miles on a flat tire? A porch light shines on the road, so I come to the conclusion that I might as well fix the flat where there is light.

A pick-up truck goes past, brake lights go on and it turns around (is this the same pick-up I experienced earlier in the ride?!!) It stops a few yards behind me and its bright lights help me see while changing the tire and tube. Just as I wave "thanks" into the lights the driver's door opens and a woman gets out. I probably don't look too well -- tired, cold and unshaven for several days and it's close to midnight. Once again I am offered help (a ride). I decline, saying I have ridden 700 miles and only have 50 to go. The lady is impressed! She wants to congratulate me by shaking my greasy hand! I show her my blackened hand and express my appreciation, but she insists on shaking my hand anyway! Colorado folks are just plain friendly!

I finish the ride frozen to the core. The next day, John Ellis organizes a post-Last Chance dinner and we trade stories.

If you go, be prepared for:

friendly people -- not only the riders and organizers, but the folks that live along the way. U.S. Highway 36 should be known as the "friendliest highway in America", even the trailer trucks provide lots of room for cyclists. This includes the trucks coming from the opposite direction, as they seem to understand that they kick up a tremendous side wind when they pass

extremes in the weather. Although this is a relatively benign time of year (September), temperatures can range from the high 100's to the high 30's Fahrenheit. Strong head, side and tail-winds. No shade, no bicycle repair shops and no place to hide when nature calls!

foothills --- eventually one gets to the flat plains, but the foothills seem to last forever (and you can see them for miles and miles and miles and .....)

October 18, 2004