Monday, January 30, 2017

Favo(u)rite Distances: RUSA vs. Audax UK

Randonneuring has lots in common among all riders and organizers. But each country is different in what they emphasize and how they do things. Vive la différence!

I had a look at the Audax UK annual report (thanks to our friend Mark Thomas for the link). Interesting how our ridership levels differ at the various distances. For Audax UK, the most popular distance is 100km. For RUSA, it's 200km. So I decided to compare the overall 2016 stats (click chart to enlarge). It's kind of a dramatic difference:

As you can see, 100km is a hugely popular distance for AUK riders. For us, I think we are using Populaires as intros to the longer distances, starting with the 200k's. So we are not emphasizing the populaire distances as much. Some RUSA regions offer only a few. And of course we don't have a 50km (31 mile) distance at all.

At the longer distances, the ridership contrast is still pronounced. Looks like we have more folks going after 300k's, 400k's, and 600k's. One difference, admittedly, is that we have a lot of 1000k events and a good offering of 1200k's every year. The 2016 1200k offering in the UK is probably the fascinating Scottish Highlands 1200k you may have read about from our rando colleague Ian Flitcroft in American Randonneur.

Eldorado Canyon near Boulder

Of course, this year, our four 1200k's are not going to compare with London-Edinburgh-London's ridership. :-)

And Audax UK's absolute ridership is actually greater than ours (overall, though not at specific distances), despite their being an island nation much smaller than ours. It's all just a difference in styles, history perhaps, and emphasis.

So there you have it.  Your thoughts appreciated!


This is the second in a series of "stats" posts that I hope you'll find interesting. I have not yet published the first - about RUSA membership - so you can feel free to anticipate!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Texas Rando Stampede 1200k - Fun or What?

2016 was the third edition of the Texas Rando Stampede 1200, 
hosted by the Lone Star Randonneurs, plus Houston Randonneurs and Hill Country Randonneurs.

2013 Logo
You ride through a succession of terrains: from open, semi-western, to hilly (in the Texas Hill Country), to more mellow and wooded in East Texas. 
The Stampede is well organized and supported. Services are plenteous. 
And there were definitely lots of amenable calories to be had en route.

SPOT tracker trace showing the three stages: Waxahachie - Marble Falls - Brenham - Crockett - Waxahachie

I had not ridden the Stampede until now, chiefly because it is smack in the middle of our core brevet series. Even if "Colorado's snowiest months" (March and April) have been kind to cyclists, you still need to work out how to get in your SR series around the Stampede. In my case I rode our early-bird 200k, pre-rode the 300k, then came back after the Stampede to finish off our 400k and 600k.

Rough Going?

The route presents no altitude challenge and only moderate climbing, but ...
a friend who'd ridden the Stampede warned me of the "Texas-sized chipseal." So I contemplated how to soften the ride in ways that didn't involve a feather pillow.

In the end, I settled on larger and more supple tires, plus the Kestrel in place of  my trusty Green De Rosa. The Kestrel has had 1200k experience, after all ... on PBP'99! Its carbon frame soaks up vibrations while not being mushy.
But the white frame can show dirt. :-)

The faithful Kestrel, just back from the Stampede
in its 1200k configuration.

Now that the prep was done, it's just the enforced rest of a day-long drive to Texas, and on with the event!

George Evans and Dan Driscoll firing up the riders at the pre-event orientation.

Much of the discussion in this orientation was whether riders wanted to take the detours around water crossings, or head on through them. There had been considerable rain recently, and cue sheet reflected a lot of effort to construct alternatives should roads be impassable. By contrast, shallow water crossings are a fact of life in central Texas, so riders were going to have to deal with these, as Texas Hell Week veterans will tell you.

In the end, we faced no detours, and the water crossings were no problem. I, however, elected to walk through each of these rather than ride.

- - -

It was my pleasure to have my friend and riding pal Paul Foley on the Stampede. Paul has ridden all three Stampedes, so the fact that he keeps coming back is a testament for sure.

Paul Foley in one of his assorted Rocky Mountain Cycling Club jerseys.
(You can spy the photographer in the background in a more recent RMCC jersey.)
In the previous edition, I'm told most riders were corralled in one giant herd. This year there were one or more smaller herds. I started off the first morning in one with about 18 riders. We headed off into a balmy southwest headwind.

Mid-afternoon, windy and toasty, somewhere in the 90's, we pull into the control at Green's Sausage House in Zabcikville. 

George Evans at Green's Sausage House checking in on us in the heat of the day

This historic building clears up any doubt as how to spell the control town's name, but not how to pronounce it!

Studying the cue sheet before the event, I was not sure how well Green's Sausage House would suit me as a control. But it turns out to be a great establishment, family run, and I'm able to get a sausage kolache which just hits the spot!

All things sausage and sausage related!
The day continued hot and sunny, over a variety of road surfaces, some quite rough. Paul and I managed to reach the final water crossing of the day at dusk, where we could still see it. George had warned to be on the lookout should we reach it after dark.

Marble Falls

After a good evening feed (well, around midnight) at the event motel, and a motel breakfast, we head out in full daylight.

Daylight start of Day 2 from Marble Falls

Shab Memarbashi - rider Hamid Akbarian's wife and volunteer par excellence - documenting our departure
Paul Foley looking stylish
in his Colorado Last Chance 1200 jersey.
A nice choice!

Paul and George at a stop in the Hill Country.
George was just about to show us a radar track of thunderstorms bearing down on us.
This is the Texas Hill Country day, with the biggest climbs, none of them long, but occasionally stiff. We get a warning of the first of these as we round a bend then plunge down to a creek crossing. We follow Jeff Newberry's advice to find our lowest gears for the climb back up. And it works!

Perhaps the most memorable stiff climb - locally termed the "Man-Maker" - gazed at us from across our biggest water crossing. We could see the entire climb up to the next ridge top, looking quite vertical from our perspective. On the climb, we edged past British tandem couple Emma and Jonathan Dixon, who were doing just fine, actually.

Despite the glowering red and yellow radar images of thunderstorms George showed us from his phone, bearing down on us from the northwest, we only get a sprinkle, as we stop for lunch at a Subway shop. That's some timing!

It's been another long day, capped by many zigs and zags on 1½-lane farm-to-market roads in the dark, punctuated by a transit of delightful, victorian Round Top, Texas: white frame buildings in a central square, nicely lighted for our nighttime transit.


I'm actually surprised to be wheeling into Brenham, the overnight control, at 12:20am, rather than an hour later. It has just has seemed to have been a long day. There's tasty catered Mexican food and then it's off to bed.

Day 3 features the more wooded landscape heading into East Texas.

One of the highlights of the entire ride is transiting Sam Houston National Forest, with actual woods, park-like meadows ... and some smooth pavement!

Silky smooth road through Sam Houston National Forest, mixed pine and deciduous woods.
Out of nowhere in the forest appears the volunteer crew, graciously waving us on and ready with food and drink if we need it.

Vickie Tyer, left, and Shab Memar, flanked by rider volunteers in Sam Houston National Forest
Things turn a bit more rustic, and still nice!

Somewhat more rustic road in the forest to Stubblefield Lake

After convenience store roasted chicken in Hunstville, it's onto a busy highway for a segment, then a tranquil, quiet back road as evening approaches.

Secret Control?

Just before Lovelady, a volunteer is waiting with bananas and other treats. At one point this was going to be a secret control, but has turned into just a support point. The volunteer estimates I should get into Crockett about dusk ... which turns out to be exactly right.

We are offered BBQ combo platters - more than ample helpings, even for the voracious randos. Paul and I talk with other riders as they come in, then head for some sleep.


Our final day starts off serenely, with some quick miles at dawn in the cool of the morning.
I see a rider ahead who seems to be gliding along effortlessly. Despite my expeditious pace, he is not getting any closer.

We reach some stronger rollers on country roads, and we eventually make contact: it's Jim Solanick, veteran of 25 1200k's, a great rider, and a nice guy. He never seems to need to get out of that big chainring, even on the stiff rollers.

We ride into Mexia, an oasis of more high-calorie food that we randos crave.

25-time 1200k finisher Jim Solanick in Mexia
The wind has come up leaving Mexia, and so this tree-lined stretch offers a bit of relief.

Quiet smoothly-paved road out of Mexia, 
with wind-sheltering trees - a treat!
A chance to glance along the roadside at the many wildflowers of typical Texas varieties.

Roadside wildflowers ... 
a mere sampling of the many great wildflowers on the route!
After a succession of increasingly exposed and flat windswept miles, I roll into the Dawson control.

The lady behind the counter remarks that most riders have been ordering healthy food, while she rings up my sale for fried burritos (yum!).

Matthew Fitzgerald and his healthy Subway sandwich at the Dawson control.

Horses glance at our passing, but are not particularly impressed.

The Waxahachie town line comes into welcome view, on this wonderfully smooth segment of road, a gracious end to our travels.

The colorful Rando Stampede brevet card will offer a fond memory.

Especially like the Texas longhorn stamp!

Organizer Dan Driscoll arrives with his herd at the finish!

My wife Pat Heller back from her East Texas birding foray
to meet me at the finish.

The Stampede has been a fair amount of fun and variety. The support was excellent, the camaraderie first-rate, and the convenience-store food just hit the spot for 1200km of riding!


Monday, December 26, 2016

Grand Randonnée Round-Up for 2017!

With the snow flying outside, it's time to ponder and plan your big ride(s) for 2017!

Only three US organizers have 1200k's on tap for 2017:
On the plus side, these are all veteran events, and have been touted as good first-time 1200k's. The Gold Rush and the Last Chance are the second and third oldest US 1200k's, after Boston-Montreal-Boston.

North of the border, Ontario Randonneurs is organizing their
As per their online write-up, riders will experience such features as the Niagara Escarpment, the Canadian Shield, Georgian Bay, and Lake Ontario.

Further afield, see the Randonneurs Mondiaux calendar for other 1200k and longer Grand Randonnées worldwide, 46 events in all!

Some awards for extra motivation:

The Gold Rush Randonnée, organized by the Davis Bike Club, heads north from Davis into the high plateau of NE California.  The first and final 100 miles are flat (Sacramento Valley), but there's lots of climbing and scenery in between.  Deluxe volunteer support. My report from the previous GRR (2013).

The Last Chance is rolling, open, and expansive, with panoramic views unencumbered by woods or canyons. There are some flat sections, but not as many as you'd think ("fewer flat miles than the Gold Rush"). The wind can be your constant companion. This year we are adding a foray along quiet roads into Nebraska. An evocative pioneer experience. My Photomontage (2006)

The Taste of Carolina in the fall, and Carolina Spring 1200 in the spring, vary their routes from year to year. You may get a taste of the Piedmont foothills, the Blue Ridge, and the coastal plain.  

Lots of possibilities to challenge you in 2017.  So start imagining and planning!


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Hawaii Perms

This is a compendium of routes I've developed on Maui and Hawai'i, the Big Island. They are oriented to some of the places where people might stay on vacation or live. Hawai'i is arguably the most bike-friendly island to ride, as it is roomier and has more miles of good roadway for cyclists, including the luxurious new Saddle Road (climbing over the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa), and the busier but wide-shouldered Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway on the Kona coast. Large parts of Maui are good as well.

Many of these routes are strenuous, either because of the climbing, the wind, or the heat in the lava fields. But scenic and rewarding.

Hawaii has many faces, which makes riding there so interesting!

Click on any route name to see the RideWithGPS route.


202km - 11,800 ft. climbing - 3,051 ft. max.
Lihei start

This is a tough ride, with a succession of climbs in and out of bays on the Hana Highway, and possible showers on this, the windward side;  rough pavement and some dirt on the south coast; and a climb over the shoulder of Haleakala. Can also be a hot ride in that section with limited services, but scenic and quiet! Clockwise or counter-clockwise options.

Quiet single-lane road through lava flows on Maui south coast.

 HAWAI'I (The Big Island) 

100km - 2,800 ft. climbing -  997ft. max 
Kona start

A jaunt down the coastal Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, and climb up to Waikaloa Village, a verdant town surrounded by the dry grasses and volcano pumice of the western slope of Mauna Kea.

Grasses poke out of lava fields on the Kona Coast.

200km - 7,100 ft. climbing - 3,580 ft. max 
Kona start

Up the Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, a stiff climb past Waikaloa Village to Waimea, and the scenic climb over the Kohala Highway to windward greenery at Hawi.

The edge of moisture on the Kohala Highway.

201km - 7,800 ft. climbing - 3,580 ft. max
Waimea start

Much like the Kona Hawi Hop, but based in Waimea, starting with the climb over Kohala Highway, and finishing with the stiff climb from the coast back to Waimea.

Climbing the Kohala Highway with sunrise over Mauna Loa.

120km - 7,500 ft. climbing - 9,117 ft. max
Waimea start

Some scenic, quiet climbing over what used to be part of the Saddle Road, to the new Saddle Road proper, and a stiff, extended climb up the Mauna Kea Road to the visitors center. Bring adequate gearing. Weather can be changeable. Typically climb through the cloud deck to the visitor center.

Looking across the cloud deck, from Mauna Kea to Mauna Loa.

101km - 5,400 ft. climbing - 6,577 ft. max
Waimea start

Same as Mauna Kea Mosey, but only to the start of the Meana Kea Road.

The rare silversword plant, outside the Mauna Kea visitors center.

100km - 5,880 ft. climbing - 3,580 ft. max
Waimea start

The Kohala Highway to the windward coast and down to scenic Pololu Lookout. Stiff climb back over Kohala Highway, which is on the division between windward (wet) and leeward (dry) conditions.

Pololu Lookout

101km - 3,900 ft. climbing - 620 ft. max
Hawi start

A visit to Pololu  Lookout and down the dry, fairly quiet northwest coast to one of the resorts and back. If you were staying at one of these resorts, the trip to Pololu Lookout and back would make a natural 100k.

A resort on the Kona Coast.

♦ ♦ 

Thoughts for Future Routes

Maui - I have thought of a "leeward side" 200k (meaning largely dry), which would take in the coast near Lihei, and West Maui at the north end of the route. Note that there can be strong winds in the "saddle" between West Maui and the other part of the island. A 100k to the top of Haleakala and back is also a natural route.

South Point on the Big Island - next stop, Antarctica.

Hawai'i - There are some possible 200km routes between Waimea and Hilo, either out-and-back, e.g., along the quiet, twisting Old Mamalahoa Highway, or taking the Saddle Road. But the Saddle Road is a prolonged, stiff climb out of Hilo (this section not yet "modernized" with shoulders), and this route has a lot of climbing. Also 100k routes from Waimea or Hilo to Waipi'o Lookout (companion to Pololu Lookout) on the coast. Some routes either from Volcano to South Point (southernmost spot in non-territorial US) or other areas of the south coast could also be good.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Time for the Brainard Lake Breeze 100k!

The roads are clear. The temps are welcoming at 10,000 ft. It's time to ride the refreshing Brainard Lake Breeze again!

Lefthand Canyon reconstruction between Olde Stage and James Canyon Drive is shaping up, and that stretch is open on the weekends.

Still a cliff or two left to demolish.

When this reconstruction is done, this lower section of Lefthand Canyon Drive will be more sweeping, open, and park-like. Still fun to ride, though!

When I rode this perm on Sunday, June 12, Brainard was still barricaded at the main entrance, but plowed up the road and around the lake (except for this dam of snow).

Biggest roadside snowdrifts near Niwot Cutoff Trailhead.
(But the trails are in snowshoe or posthole condition.)

A convenient place to lean your bike while having a sandwich!

* * *
Same location, May 21.

* * *
And on May 1, on skis.

Still, you could find your way around with this helpful signage.

Back then the lake was frozen and snowed over.

Enough open water for anglers by late May.

And fully open now.

* * *

A good trickle of cyclists now wend their way to Brainard for a refreshing break.
A good time to join them!