Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Just North of the Border AZ 400k Brevet

JUST NORTH of THE BORDER 400 km Brevet
Tucson, AZ, March 2020

by Paul Foley and Pascal Ledru

After our fastest ever 400km around Phoenix (Pascal to make sure to get his qualifier in for PBP and Paul to get his double series) last year, we thought another early trip to Arizona to get some miles in would be a good idea. And this time, after an easy recruitment speech, John M, Mike and Jason decided to join us.

While "Around the Bend" was a flat course south of Phoenix with about 2,600 feet of climbing, "Just North of the Border" is a more hilly and more windy (but also more scenic) course with about 11,000 feet of climbing south of Tucson.

Meeting at 5:30 at a Starbucks in Tucson, time to introduce ourselves to some of the other riders such as Ann and John Jurczynski who are riding a Seven tandem with a carbon belt and are targeting the Trans Am this year. We also saw old friends Jen and Steve, with whom we had ridden in the past in both Arizona and PBP.  The ridership included participants from seven different states, and one Canadian.

Mike Sturgill, excellent Arizona RBA, went over the course for both the 200km and the 400km riders; Mike will meet us 4 times through the course with water, bananas and snacks at control points as well as a nice lunch in Tombstone.

Departure at 6:00, exiting Tucson going east, then south, then a small loop through Saguaro National Park. A nice opportunity to see the large saguaro cactus close and personal. The road was a single lane-one-way roller coaster through the park, with appropriate warning signs.

Saguaro National Park East
Rincon Mountains in the background

Mike Turek

We then headed South to Sonoita starting with a long but progressive climb. Team RMCC stays together and Steve Atkins from Phoenix joins us and will stay with us through the remainder of the course; he is not used to our bad jokes yet! In Sonoita, Mike Sturgill meets us for water and snack. At this point the 200km riders turn back and we will be on our own: 5 RMCC riders with Steve Atkins, and intermittently Leif Bjelland from Montana will ride with us on and off.

Bridge in Elgin

Store in Sonoita, with welcome support from RBA

After Sonoita, the ride goes through Arizona wine country, unfortunately no time to stop, much to Pascal’s chagrin.

We then pass Elgin (an info control) and then reach historic Tombstone. We were lucky to not get shot and make it alive while we cross main street as this the home to the famed Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral.   Tombstone advocates itself as "the most authentic western town left in the united states" and it definitely has a Wild West atmosphere.  As the town has daily gun fights, John M wondered why local law enforcement couldn’t put a stop to such behavior.

John Mangin in Tombstone

Allen St.

"The RMCC Posse"

40 miles after Tombstone we reach Mule Pass the highest point of the ride, at just over 6000 ft. The climb gradually steepened on the way up, which splintered the group.  We regrouped at the pass, and from there a long downhill to Bisbee where we stop at the High Desert Market and Cafe for pizza (Mike and Pascal) and snacks (everybody else).

Traversing Bisbee, we pass the Lavender Pit, which is a former open pit copper mine, before we go down Erie Street which seems to have been frozen in the 1950s: rusting and fully renovated cars and trucks, old gas station and a "biker patrol" cruiser. Time for a couple of pictures.

After Bisbee, we head south then west and actually ride "Just North of the Border" for 20 miles, where we see occasional Border Patrol Agents on the lookout.  Unfortunately strong head winds and a deceptively difficult climb took its toll, raising fears of possible deportation back to our wintery climes

We then finally head north to the next control, aided by the wind and a gentle descent in Sierra Vista. We all stop at McDonald’s, except for John who is still psychologically traumatized by a bad experience as a teenager requiring him to pick up a sandwich at the Circle-K instead. He still then reluctantly joins us to eat his sandwich with us. The sun has set now, and the temperatures are dropping.

From Sierra Vista back to Sonoita; all the stores are closed, but luckily Mike Sturgill waits for us one last time with water and snacks. Ten miles north of Sonoita, we go through a Border control check poin: are you all U.S citizens: "oui, oui", they let us pass.

Finally, at the 210 mile point of the course, the downhill back to Tucson begins, we reach the outskirts of the city, pass by a couple of B-52 Stratofortress at the very nice Pima Air & Space Museum. The road becomes pretty bumpy as we enter the city and Mike wishes he had taken his Ypsan randonneur bike instead of a carbon bike.

Victory dinner at In-And-Out right before 1:00AM wraps a very enjoyable experience, and a near nineteen-hour brevet.

It seems an early 400km in Arizona in March is going to become a tradition. From 2 RMCC riders in 2019 to 5 in 2020, this is a 150% rise. Will we see the same progression or even a bigger one in 2021? And a huge thank you to Mike Sturgill for organizing and superbly supporting, this ride.

Grace Turek celebrated our success !

Finish at the In-n-Out Burger in Tucson
Paul, John, Jason Turner, Leif, Pascal, Mike

♦ ♦ ♦

Friday, March 13, 2020

Grand Randonnée Round-Up for 2020!

It's March ("our snowiest month" in Colorado) and the snow is flying outside - so it's still time to ponder and plan!

A record-matching 8 US 1200k's are scheduled for 2020:

April 30
June 3
Lap of the Lake  NEW 
July 8
July 13
August 2
August 13
Crater Lake  NEW September 2
Cracker SwampNovember 5

Foreign Grand Randonnées - The Randonneurs Mondiaux calendar lists 87 (!) grand randonnées ... including: 
  • 2 in Canada (Ontario and British Columbia)
  • 11 in Australia (including the Great Southern Randonnée)
  • 18 in India (many of them early in the year, and already passed)
  • 5 in Japan
  • 1 in the UK (Land's End to John O'Groats)
  • 4 in Russia
  • 7 in Ukraine
  • 8 in the US, as shown above.
If you are riding a one of these events, some awards for extra motivation:

Finish two US grand randonnées in the same year.

Finish four different US grand randonnées - over any number of years

Finish a US grand randonnée, a populaire, a team event, 200k, 300k, 400k, 600k, and 1000k, and enough extra to add up to 5000 km in 24 months.

Finish PBP, another grand randonnée, a Super Randonnée 600, two Super-Randonneur series (with 1000k's), a Flèche, and other events within six years.

RM Challenge Lepertel  NEW 
A 1200 km or longer event in each of 4 consecutive calendar years.

And now some details on the US grand randonnées ...

Carolina Spring this year will take in the Carolina Piedmont and coastal plain, with some inlet crossings. Tony Goodnight varies the route from year to year. This year has elements like 2014's Carolina Spring.

The Northern Virginia Cloverleaf is four loops emanating from Leesburg, VA and covering VA, WV, PA, and MD. This is Hamid and Shab's first time organizing a 1200k and it promises to be a scenic tour of the Shenandoah Valley, Appalachian foothills, and Virginia coastal plain.

The Lap of the Lake 1200 is a circuit of Lake Ontario, and thus a portion in Ontario, Canada. It is based on the Lap of the Lake 1000k, which Pete Dusel has organized for years. "Please make your plans assuming this is a self supported ride."

The Colorado High Country is most likely still the world's highest grand randonnée, topping out above 10,000 ft. three times.  The climbs are prolonged but fairly gentle.  The scenery is expansive, varying from Continental Divide outcroppings and forests to high sage parks. This year all overnights are in Walden, CO, making logistics easier for most everyone. Day 2 is a loop through Wyoming's Snowy Range. Day 3 is a loop over Rabbit Ears Pass to Gore Pass and back via Willow Creek Pass.

New York - Montréal - New York is "a Long skinny loop, visiting six ranges of the Northeast Appalachians." It starts in the New York City suburbs and turns around near Montréal in Québec.

The Great Lakes Iron Porcupine 1200k tours "the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the far north of Wisconsin.  These are the lands of ancient mountains, the Marquette Iron Range and 'Copper Country.'" A combo of lush scenery and some history. This is a successor to the successful Mac 'n' Cheese 1200k in 2017.

- - -

Crater Lake - "Details coming in June."

- - -

The Cracker Swamp 1200km is a cloverleaf of four loops out of Tavares in Central Florida. Folks who rode the inaugural Cracker Swamp in 2016 liked the event: the simple logistics, great organization, and lots of quiet roads on this late-season 1200k.

Choosing and Riding a Grand Randonnée

My traditional advice ...

While all grand randonnées aim to provide you a memorable experience, there are many styles of events, kinds of challenges, services, and what you get for your fee.  So investigate and find which ones suit your personal goals!

Scenic and Challenging or Social ... or Both? - Each of these events is challenging, of course, and any can be social with the right attitude and discipline.  But it can be easier to stick together as a group if the route is more moderated in its climbs, exposure, etc.  Riding with a group may be important to you.  Or you may be longing for that special, bracing experience, and willing to ride stretches alone or with a few friends who've agreed to stick together.

Your Ride Plan? - Some events provide a pretty definitive idea of where you should sleep. Others provide some accommodations at a number of controls. Still others leave you totally to your own devices.

» Stage-Oriented events have suggested riding segments per day, with overnight facilities provided at the ends of those segments. They have become more popular over the years. This scheme promotes rider cohesiveness, and allows riders to regroup on successive morning starts.  They also allow the organizers to concentrate their lodging and food support at fewer points, making for upgraded lodging options and cost savings.

» "Freestyle" events come in variations on two themes: many staffed controls with sleep options (some of which may be limited, but still a place to sleep), such as Paris-Brest-Paris and the Rocky Mountain 1200; or no event-provided lodging, leaving you to research ahead of time, and make your own arrangements based on your ride plan, likely with a more economical entry fee.

It can be satisfying to tune your ride to how things are going, or to your own personal way of riding.  It can also be comforting not to have to think about that, and just ride well-thought-out stages. 

Pre-visualize how you'd ride the event you've chosen or are considering, and how the event structure supports or can accommodate your needs.

Services / Lodging Provided? - Are there regular opportunities to get food (either event-supplied or in stores) and shelter / lodging (either event-supplied or motels en route)?  The Big Wild Ride 1200k in Alaska, for example, advised riders there could be stretches up to 200km where you'd need to be self-contained (except for water).  This requires more planning on your part, but the reward could be a remote, scenic trip hard to match.
Effort and Expense - Finally, while it may not affect which event you choose, research the total cost of riding the event.  The entry fee may a small part, when added to transportation and lodging - and the logistics of getting to/from the start line.  International events clearly can be more trouble and expense, and some US events are easier to get to than others, too.  If it's a trade-off between economizing and the exotic, you may find the new or exotic worth the extra cost and trouble, or not.  It all depends!

- - - 
Plenty to whet your appetite and take you to new places in 2020.  So start imagining, planning, ... and training!


Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Echo Lake Enigma 107k perm populaire

On September 1, as one of my post-PBP recovery rides, I rode the new Echo Lake Enigma 107km Permanent Populaire.

We've all likely ridden every mile of these road segments, perhaps on our way to Mt. Evans, or as part of Catherine Shenk's Squaw Pass Scramble 200k perm. Though little over 100 km, it's quality all the way, starting with the Lookout Mountain climb that starts half a block from clipping in in Golden.

Route map courtesy of RideWithGPS and Google Maps

Climbing up Lookout Mountain Road out of Golden, one is reminded that this five mile stretch is (I feel), mile for mile, one of the most scenic and dramatic stretches in the state ... and right at our doorstep!

Sunrise over South Table Mountain

Dawn brings almost toasty downslope winds to parry as you corner the switchbacks.

Two groups of downhill longboarders [someone will correct me on this term] descend minutes apart, wearing fully enclosed safety and visored helmets and flying downhill in a skating tuck. And fortunately exhibiting plenty of centerline discipline.

Clear Creek Canyon to the north ... the large white vehicle is probably a bus heading to Blackhawk or Central City

We often drive Clear Creek Canyon to and from the mountains, and can gaze up at this very overlook (eastbound).

Windy Saddle TH overlook to Clear Creek Canyon

The Genesee to Rancho Grande path is an improvement over riding I-70, but it offers the steepest pitch of the entire ride.

After transiting the Evergreen Parkway highway and Bergen Park, it's an extended climb up the Squaw Pass Rd. As you ascend, you can get views to the right (north) of the Idaho Springs mining district diggings and tailings.

Climbing higher up Squaw Pass Rd.

Passing the junction to Witter Gulch Road is a reminder of one of the stiffest climbs (or descents) on the Colorado Front Range "Super Six" SR 600 perm. Ah, memories!

This is the high point of the SR 600 perm route, and ours today, over 11,000 ft., but not above timberline.

Near summit of Hwy. 103 / Squaw Pass Rd.

Turnaround at the Echo Lake Lodge!  The only congestion I experienced on this ride was at the Echo Lake Lodge, with proximity to the the Mt. Evans Road entrance. But everyone was congenial. And there are sodas, chocolate, a cheeseburger if you wish, plush toys of mountain species animals, and postcards to purchase in the lodge. The lodge staff is amiable as always.

Echo Lake Lodge
(lowest flag is City of Denver, as this is a Denver Mountain Park)

Lots of riders were heading up from Bergen Park or Idaho Springs for a climb up Mt. Evans. I didn't exactly have to fight for bike-leaning space, but there were plenty of bikes there.

Convenient bike parking at the lodge

Heading back, you get different views from the three-or-so-mile climb out of Echo Lake. 

Upper Bear Creek viewed climbing back up from Echo Lake

CDOT has chipsealed about five miles of the easternmost part of Hwy. 103 (from Squaw Pass). It's well done, but it's still chipseal. They've striped the upbound lane with an ample bike lane. That's something.

New chipseal from MP 18 high point to end of Hwy. 103 
(about 5 miles, to Squaw Pass crossing)

The descent down the Squaw Pass Road used to be hair-raising, with its sudden sharp turns coinciding with ruts and potholes you had to find a line through, but road surface now is just great.

All too soon it's time to plummet down the Lookout Mountain descent of the Lariat Loop, enjoying vistas along the way.

View up the Front Range towards Boulder County
descending Lookout Mountain Road

And our finish in Golden beckons ...

Golden and North and South Table Mountain

It's interesting to compare this, the Echo Lake Enigma 107k, to the Guanella Pass Gambol I rode earlier in the summer. The Guanella Pass ride seemed much more intimidating to me, and lots more work. For sure the Guanella Pass ride had more prolonged steeper grades. But look at the stats ...

 min maxclimbing
Echo Lake 107k   5698'  11157'7662'
Guanella 100k 8025'  11669'7201'

According to RideWithGPS, Echo Lake actually has a tad bit more climbing, and only 500 ft. lower max altitude than Guanella. Echo Lake is more frontloaded, with more climbing at lower elevations. And Guanella Pass gives you the sense you're above timberline. And there is no lodge at the Grants turnaround point. Some of the factors, and I'm sure there are more. I enjoyed both!

You could, too!


Saturday, July 13, 2019

Charlie and the Texans Ride the SR 600!

On July 1, Jeff Newberry, Rob Tulloh, Russell Dorobek, Amy Russell, and Byron Welch from Texas, and Charlie Martin from the Bay Area set out on the Colorado Front Range SR 600. Here is Rob's story with links to his photo galleries. Rob also posted the story on Facebook, if you'd like to see it there.

Colorado SR 600 Day 1 - Niwot to Evergreen

We started our ride at 7AM with a send off from John Lee Ellis at the Niwot control. The ride began in the cool of the morning and we pedaled about 14 miles to Lyons where we encountered the first photo control. Just after this, we started our first ascent of the day climbing up 4200 feet. We stopped in Raymond for water and to regroup. We then continued our way to Nederland and Eldora (Eldora was the next photo control). After this, we followed the detour on dirt roads around Central City and then continued our way toward Idaho Springs which was the last services stop before beginning the climb to Echo Lake. We climbed with concern for Amy Russell who was struggling mightily with asthma and breathing issues at the high elevation. We did get to enjoy a beautiful sunset at the top of the mountain. We also found the descent to be dry and my concern for Witter Gulch was unfounded as the road was dry. I followed Jeff Newberry down to Bear Creek Road. Our only challenge was the darkness as the sun had gone down by the time we began descending into the gulch. We finished the day tired. Byron Welch had successfully reached the restaurant by phone to order us pizza. We ate, showered, and then slept to get ourselves ready for day 2.

Day 1 Photos

Up the Riverside - Raymond Road

Day 2 - Evergreen to Woodland Park and back

An epic day. We rolled out at 5:30 AM to try and reach Subway in Conifer when it opened at 7:00 AM. We climbed up to the photo control at Sandy and waited a bit for Amy Russell to appear. I had no signal on my phone so Charles Martin and I descended down to the Subway in Conifer and found a message from Amy saying she was having more trouble breathing today and she was headed back to the hotel. We had left Jeff Newberry behind to wait and we were faced with a 'what do we do since we cannot reach Jeff. As we were talking about it, Jeff and Russell Dorobek rolled up. Thankfully, Russ got the message and so they rolled down to Conifer to join us. The rest of the day was more epic climbs and incredible descents. We descended quite a bit from Conifer and were thinking how miserable the afternoon was going to be when we returned. One bright spot was the store at Deckers. We had milkshakes outbound and a cold beverage on the return. Woodland Park was misery. The drivers were rude, the Wendy's we used for services was jam packed. Fortunately, I had a Subway sandwich in my bag so I just got a soda and ice water to use for filling my bottle at Wendy's. As we departed, Russ got a flat and pulled out a piece of glass from his tire. The tubeless sealed it well enough. The rain drops were falling sparsely so I put on my rain jacket and helmet cover. As we got to the edge of town it started hailing and we all dodged for cover to escape the pummeling. Russ used the time to patch his tire. Charlie also got a flat and we changed his tire and tube. The temperature had dropped 30 degrees so I put on all my warm clothes as we shivered our way down the road. A few miles along, we hit sun and we stopped to take everything off. We then ht the big descent back to Deckers and I attacked the descent and arrived to Deckers just as Jeff was ordering some food. We fixed ourselves up here and then climbed out of Deckers on the steep mountain roads. It was hot, hot, hot and we just made our best time up the climbs. Russ was ahead of us so it was me, Jeff, and Charlie together until the end. I rode well until the climb into Conifer. I bonked and it was all I could do to reach the C-store control. As we waited at the store, it rained briefly and then cleared. A double rainbow appeared in the sky. We climbed back to the photo control with the sun blazing into our eyes. We finished the ride before it got dark and now are plotting our Day 3 plans to ensure we finish before the time expires.

Day 2 Photos 

Five almost flat miles along the South Platte

Colorado SR600 Day 3

Day 3 started at 3:30 AM. We wanted to be sure we had plenty of time to finish and we knew that the climb up to Echo Lake at the start was going to be a challenge. We had debated the option of eating breakfast at the Lodge, but we decided this should wait for another time and we would simply climb and then descend to Idaho Springs for breakfast at McDonald's. Charles Martin and I got to the top of the Witter Gulch climb first. I was breathing heavy and stopped once to catch my breath as I was about to hyperventilate. Charlie seemed like nothing could phase him and he climbed up to the top where we both waited for Russ and then Jeff Newberry. Jeff had a bottle get loose on the climb and had to stop and retrieve his bottle which put him last to finish with a good story to share. We then continued climbing (at a much better grade) up to the summit of the Echo Lake climb. I took photos of the sunrise and my Garmin showing the summit at 11,122 feet. I also saw a fox and some elk as I climbed up to the top. We put on all our cold weather clothing and then visited the photo control. We then descended into Idaho Springs. Before descending, I noted that the Lodge didn't open until 8AM which was 70 minutes later than our arrival. This would have been a deal breaker for breakfast and we were glad to continue on with more time in the bank. I had a terrible descent as I was shivering. The bike was shaking because I was cold so I braked and took the long descent with care to avoid any sort of mishap. I was the last to arrive at McDonald's, but I was only about 2 minutes behind Charlie. We ate breakfast and then started the hilly ride toward Eldora. Jeff fell off the back as we made our way. At the detour on Bald Mountain, Russ and Charlie decided to wait, but I warned them that Jeff might be ill tempered about their decision. I walked my bike up the 18% grade to a safe starting point and then climbed the dirt roads up to the apex (Charlie and Russ passed me on my way up) and enjoyed a long descent following behind Russ and Charlie. We then exited the dirt roads and made our way up the climbs to reach the Taggarts store. We ate and drank and refilled bottles at Taggarts. The temperature had ratcheted up above 95 degrees and we were all feeling the effects of the heat. There was no sign of Jeff and we learned later he got slightly lost in the detour and fell further behind our group. Charlie, Russ and I continued on to Eldora and snapped photos at the photo control. As we rolled back to Nederland, we spotted Jeff on his way toward the Eldora control and cheered the sighting. We stopped briefly in Eldora and then braved more heat and climbing to reach the apex of the 4200 foot descent which would take us down to Lyons and then Niwot. Charlie and I stopped at Raymond on the way down as I had run out of water and was super hot. We ate ice cream on the porch of the store and enjoyed the shade. We then finished the long descent (glorious!), snapped photos at Lyons control, and then pedaled the last 12 miles to Niwot control. I was finally on flat roads and sat in my 50x11 following Charlie the last few miles. He had been sitting on my wheel much of the past 3 days and I told him it was his turn to pull me to the finish line which he did graciously. At the final control, we found Russ waiting for us. I opened up the van to let it air out (it was hot!) and we waited another 40 or so minutes for Jeff to arrive. We then took our photos and celebrated finishing the ride.

Day 3 Photos

Friday, July 5, 2019

Guanella Pass Gambol 100k

In June, 2018, Paul Foley did the inaugural ride of the Guanella Pass Gambol 100k, and wrote a great report for it, which also appeared in RUSA's American Randonneur magazine.

This June, I got around to riding this, my own route, myself!

To recap, this is an out and back over Guanella Pass - from Downieville to Grant and back - climbing Guanella Pass from both sides. The seven miles from Downieville get us up to the minimum distance, but are also a nice warm-up before the big first climb.

My ride report will be complementary to Paul's, although there is some overlap - both of us took photos of our bikes with Dino the Dinosaur at the ride start. But Paul enjoyed a sandwich in Grant at Al's Pits BBQ, which was closed on the day of the week I rode.

Folks at the Starbucks in Downieville were friendly, as they explained I could park in their lot, just not overnight. A chocolate croissant (pain chocolat in French) immediately upped my energy level and bolstered my mood.

The 7 miles from Downieville to Georgetown are slightly uphill and largely quiet. They are  good warmup for the Guanella Pass climb itself, which aims skyward immediately up switchbacks out of Georgetown.

Soon we're getting good views of snowy landscape above the timberline.

This is a well-engineered road with plenty of attractive stonework to bolster the roadside slopes.

The grade is a steady climb, except for a couple of fairly flat stretches along two reservoirs dotting Cabin Creek. Final grade to the pass increases a bit.

Still plenty of remnants of plowing, after our plenteous snowfall this winter.

At the pass, the "Summit Overlook" on the right is the turn you take to the info control.

There are trailheads on the west side of the pass, to trails across the tundra including to Square Top Lakes. Also the Mt. Bierstadt trailhead on the east side of the road.

Looking east.

The descent starts on rough chipseal at a good grade, but after 3-4 miles and a switchback, reaches silky smooth asphalt, from a couple years ago when this part of the road was paved (from being dirt).

Midway down opens out to an almost stretch of meadows and grazing (bounded by cattle guards), and some equestrian trails.

The road proceeds along roaring and churning Geneva Creek.

Grant - Just before reaching downtown Grant, is Al's Pits BBQ on the right. There is a small arrowed sign; otherwise it is easy to miss. Since they are only open Fri.-Sun., if you bike another day, you can ring the bell at the store-like establishment at the junction of US-285, and purchase liquids.

This plus Al's and a motel are about the only establishments in Grant.

Heading back was work for me, even with the (probably prevailing) tailwind, but the scenery provided a nice distraction.

I like the wooden guardrails, and they're handy to lean bikes against.

Nearing the summit from the south.

Back at the summit. There has been lots of cloud today, but making for a comfortable temperature range, and the dry forecast was born out.

Another snowbank rounding a switchback.

Narrow valley heading down to Georgetown.

One of the two small reservoirs

Herd of bighorn sheep placidly grazing or after salt near the roadside

Georgetown in the Clear Creek Valley, I-70 and the climb to Silver Plume on the left

Dino looks on as the trusty Kestrel rests after another great ride!

One thing I especially liked about this ride was the extreme quietude of the Guanella Pass road. There were almost no vehicles on it, but this was during the week. Peak summer hiking season on a weekend might be a different story.

Either way, try and enjoy!