Saturday, November 15, 2014

Grand Randonnée Round-Up for 2015!


With the snow flying outside, it's time to ponder and plan!


2014 in Retrospect - 2014 was a great year for US 1200k's and Grand Randonnées in general.  We had five 1200k+ events, two of them new: the Natchez Trace 1500k and the Central California Coast 1200k (both of which got great reviews!).

The Promise of 2011 - 2011 was the first Paris-Brest-Paris year in which Randonneurs Mondiaux would sanction events.  The response: five non-PBP 1200k's worldwide - all in the US - most of them new, including the Colorado High Country.

It's a different 1200k landscape for 2015.  Only two US 1200k events are scheduled:

Sunshine 1200k (Fla.)May 14 - new!
Taste of North Carolina October 8

And none in Canada, as is their tradition in a PBP year.

Foreign non-PBP Grand Randonnées - Many folks, including myself, will be scouring the globe for new and interesting 1200k's.  There are events in Korea (third edition, I believe) and Belgium/France, for example.  As I find out more, stay tuned.  (The Randonneurs Mondiaux website should be posting a listing of events, but it is flagged by Web browsers as infected with malware, so a word to the wise.)

Being a PBP year, there is of course Paris-Brest-Paris in August.


If you are planning on Paris-Brest-Paris, is it your first time?  If so, you may want to do some extra planning, with all the riders (5,000), start time options (3), and various sleep alternatives.

If you're an ancien(ne) returning for another go, what will your goals be this go-round?  A faster time? More sleep? More daylight riding?  Notching another PBP on your belt?  Seeing old friends?  (Some of my fellow US randonneurs I only see at PBP!)

I will be posting a series of tips - here is the first (what do to in 2014) - and we'll plan a PBP/1200k seminar in the spring.

If you are riding a 1200k, some awards for extra motivation:

Finish two US 1200k's in the same year - you can still do that in 2015!

Finish four different US 1200k's - over any number of years

Finish PBP, a Super-Randonneur series, a Flèche, and other events.

And now some details on the US 1200k's ...



The new Sunshine 1200 starts in Key West, making it the southernmost start of any US 1200k so far. It then heads up the Atlantic Coast, coming back through the center and ending up in Fort Myers Beach.  The event should be very well run, as organizer Dave Thompson has also been at the helm of the Granite Anvil; that and support from the central and southern Florida regions.  Food and lodging are included, and provisions for transport to Key West are offered.

For us it is an early 1200k, about the same time as the Texas Rando Stampede is held.  It is meant to be gentle, with comfortable temperature range and minimal climbing.  The "downside" of little climbing, of course, is that it can be rough on the derrière!



The Taste of North Carolina varies its route from year to year.  2012 offered a combo of mountains, Piedmont foothills, and a jaunt to the coast.  2013 was largely a coastal route.  2014 was a Piedmont and mountain route.  We're not sure what event director Tony Goodnight has in store for 2015, but it's bound to be interesting.


Choosing and Riding a 1200k

My advice from 2014 ...

While all 1200k's 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? - Every 1200k 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.

Stage-Oriented or Roll-Your-Own Ride Plan? - Stage-Oriented 1200k's are becoming more and more popular. They promote rider cohesiveness, and allow riders to regroup successive mornings.  They also allow the organizers to concentrate their lodging and food support at fewer points, making for upgraded lodging options and cost savings.

Roll-Your-Own events come in two flavors: many staffed controls with sleep options (some of which may be limited, but still a place to sleep), as Paris-Brest-Paris and the Rocky Mountain 1200 provide, or no event-provided lodging (VanIsle, Taste of Carolina), leaving you to make your own arrangements as suit you best. 

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. 

Whether you're choosing your 1200k, or planning for one you've chosen, pre-visualize how you'd ride it, and how the event structure supports that, 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 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 1200k 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!

An Alternative? - If you're looking for a major challenge but not dead set on a 1200k or longer distance, there are plenty of 1000k brevets out there, many of them scenic and challenging, with various levels of support.  And most 1000k's fit neatly within three days of riding.

- - - 
  
So, plenty to whet your appetite in 2015.  So start imagining, planning, ... and training!

-jle


Friday, September 5, 2014

Riding Cathy Cramer's Bishop Castle 207km Perm!

I'd wanted to try out Cathy Cramer's Bishop Castle 207km Perm for quite a while, and on August 23 I finally did!  It is a loop along and over the Wet Mountains north of Walsenburg, in a scenic, thinly-populated area of Southern Colorado.

Cathy provided excellent materials and write-up, with inviting photos.

I chose the Colorado City start, and a clockwise direction, a 180-mile drive from my house starting at 4am.  You can also start from Walsenburg, and ride in either direction (a choice which may make a big difference, I learned!).

REMEMBER YOU CAN CLICK ON IMAGES TO SEE A BIGGER PICTURE.



After a quiet start on local roads, you head down the ramp onto I-25, the snowy Spanish Peaks beckoning in the distance.


This sign, and the windmills on the left side of the highway, provided a hint of what the next few hours might offer.  It had been dead still for the first half-dozen miles, and then wham!  You're in the Wind Zone.

I thought, well, ha, I'm only going five miles further on I-25, not the ten miles they mention on the sign. But that was a mere delusion on my part.


Fortunately there are items of interest, such as Huerfano Butte, for which Huerfano County is named, an orphan on the plains.


Heading west on Red Rock Road, it's rolling, rollicking terrain, and straight into the cloud-fed wind pouring over the southern extremity of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.  I could gaze back and see the same windmills in the earlier photo, now down-valley, catching all the wind I was pedaling against (I felt).


Seriously, though the wind was hefty, it was a nice, invigorating day, and not miserable riding.  These are probably the same winds, I thought, that waft you over La Veta pass from the west, and help build the Great Sand Dunes.

(There is a thought that riding counterclockwise would be more favorable, and that could be.)

In places the highway would dip down to the valley, less breezy, and very green with irrigation (and yellow with sunflowers), a contrast to the sage country not far away.



This bicycle windvane may be showing the direction I should be heading in (but am not!).


Gardner, the first intermediate control, is a friendly, eclectic small down, with interesting architecture.  It is also the only spot on the entire course where I saw someone on a bike (a kid biking down Main St.)



Couldn't resist this photo calendar scene of mountains, horses, and sunflowers.


Or this nice pair.


The country opens up a bit with broad vistas.


A few miles north of Gardner, the route angles enough northward to start picking up tailwinds, giving a push up to the saddle (8,578 ft. - A on the elevation profile) between Gardner and Westcliffe.

Looking back down valley ...


... and up towards the saddle.


This country probably was always sparsely settled, and even more sparsely now?


A lone tree stands as a sentry on this high prairie.


A succession of dirt county roads head right towards the Sangre de Cristos ...


... towards passes or trailheads.  
(You can see the continuation of this road a bit to the left, as it angles into the forest.)


A pickup truck in a sea of sunflowers ...


Descending towards Westcliffe, I see a surprising caution sign for horsedrawn, Amish-style carriages ...


... It doesn't look like Eastern Pennsylvania, but you never know.

Close to Westcliffe, wide shoulders have been added to the highway, perhaps for the carriages.  I did not see any on the road, but later saw one on a flatbed trailer heading out of Westcliffe.


The Westcliffe checkpoint store is a welcome chance to refuel, and a friendly spot.  Westcliffe and Silver Cliff are several blocks of bustling activity before heading up into the Wet Mountains.

There are some rolling climbs heading east.  It is cloudy, but not rainy today.  The route turns south on Hwy. 165 for the main climbs of the route ... although it seems like the route has had some climbing already!

The Wet Mountains have a lush look - forest and meadows - so it may well rain on a regular basis here.


A delightful meadow with aspen/pine woods ... and some horses.


Bigelow Divide is the highest elevation (B on the elevation profile) on the route, reached by switchbacks on both sides.  Immersed in the San Isabel National Forest, it's hard to tell it's this high, but it's above the high point of the Peak-to-Peak Highway.


And then up a rise comes the eponymous treat of the ride, Bishop Castle, a fanciful construction augmented by more layers of fancy over time.  The gleaming metal dragon seemed welcoming and congratulatory, nearing the final climb of the route.

(This being the weekend, there were cars lining the highway and many frolicsome visitors having fun on the ramparts.)


The route dips down to sparkling Isabell Lake, sprinkled with anglers and casual picnickers - a nice day for it!


After one brief final oomph, the final climb, now it's a 16-mile descent to the finish, speedy but shallow enough you can just let the bike go.


Lower down, the route opens up to meadows and views of the eastern plains ...


... and sailing into the great finish of a quite memorable ride!

Many thanks to Cathy Cramer for this challenging, rewarding, and scenic route.  As you can tell, I enjoyed it, and I bet you will, too.

-jle

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rando/Ultra Vortex on the James Canyon Jaunt

It's always a treat to ride the James Canyon Jaunt 200k Permanent.  Especially when it's a recovery ride after Cathy Cramer's Bishop Castle 207k Perm the day before.

But what an enhanced treat to encounter friends from the ultra and rando worlds at seemingly every turn!

Here's John Hughes - ultra coach, ultra-race winner, randonneur, and former head of the Ultra-Marathon Cycling Association - at the Greenbriar, after a climb up Lefthand Canyon.


Terri Gooch and husband George Thomas - RAAM veterans and organizers of the Race Across Oregon - were just starting their climb up Lefthand.


Closer to Loveland, John Mangin was testing out his new vintage De Rosa and comparing notes with my green De Rosa (from the same era!). He shared ruminations about the Colorado High Country 1200 he just finished, and his second Paris-Brest-Paris next year that he's already strategizing about.  Look at that elegant bike!


While John and I were chatting, Ray Rupel saunters by in his rare long-sleeved RUSA jersey, on the final stretch of the Platteville Poke-Along 200k Permanent.  He's also thinking about PBP ... and the R-12.


Sometimes you don't need a big event to meet riding pals.  Sometimes the rando/ultra vortex is enough!

-jle

Friday, June 20, 2014

Tom Knoblauch Spotted on the Trans Am Bike Race

Our friend Tom Knoblauch is riding the Trans Am Bike Race this summer, instead of a 1200k or other long randonnée.  Billy Edwards caught up with him in central Colorado (Billy Edwards photos):

On Monday and Tuesday of this past week, I found myself at the crossroads of ultra-cycling while spending a weekend with my in-laws in Beaver Creek. With Ride the Divide MTB, Transambike, and RAAM all intersecting out great state of Colorado. I did not really interact with Ride the Divide, but having seen where I was on the map set out to see my friends racing the other two. I won't bore with details of Monday's adventure to see the RAAM teams, but I kept tracking the lead TransamBike racers approaching Breckenridge/Fairplay.

Our own Tom Knoblauch had gotten into Colorado and was following many of the same roads of the High Country and was headed to Kremmling on Monday. Unfortunately, due to his navigation technology aids becoming faulty at about 800 miles he made a 10 mile mistake coming out of Walden. He back tracked and stayed at a flea-bag hotel in Kremmling- the Motel 8. Tom was too lazy and regrets his decision to not go two more blocks and stay at the Holiday Inn. He had a great dinner of Subway. Nonetheless he got up early and headed south early on Tuesday morning. I was on my way back to Boulder and decided I would take a short side track to Breckenridge or at worst Fairplay to surprise Tom on the road. Little did I know that he would be moving at a great speed and I would not find him until 12:30 south of Hartsel. I even had to call up Ryan Franz to help me track his Spot to make sure I had not missed him in Harstel. So here is what I learned when I finally caught up to the ever-steady Tom Knoblauch.

Tom is doing GREAT! He was surprised to see me and even more surprised to know that some of us were tracking him along the route. He looked great, with a dark tan but not seriously burned considering he was at mile 2020 of 4200. Tom was "having an easy day, just putzing along." He was having a little achilles issue with his left leg, which he thought was due to not pedaling evenly and he was working on that as he went. He was hoping his "ass would shut-up" as he had some saddle sores that were annoying, but had gotten better and seemed to be on the mend. His only issue was with the navigation. He had taken pictures of the maps he had used previously for much of the route (apparently Tom had ton many of the western roads on another adventure), but his maps were 12-18 years old. He was looking at pictures on his phone to navigate and that had failed him a couple times (like coming out of Walden). He was hoping to link up with his brother (?) in Newton, Kansas and get it sorted. By the time, I am typing this, Ryan Franz has talked to his brother and they had the Garmin files sorted and hopefully a link up in Kansas was successful and Tom has better navigation. For those who don't know, riding across country is pretty easy until you get to Missouri and then there are lots of turns and getting through cities is not always a straight shot in the midwest and eastern states.

Tom's goal was always to finish up at about 21 days and he currently has a flight out of Newport News (the vicinity of Yorktown, VA- the finish) on 30 June. He told me that he had been riding easy and that once in Kansas, he was "going to really start pushing it." I asked him if there had been any notable events and he had none to report. He said he was pretty happy with his set-up but he could have done without some things that he had already ditched. He was on the same set of tubeless clincher tires that he planned on used the whole trip (27mm). He was finding a pump every three or four days to keep his tired at 80 psi in the front and 90 psi in the back. He was hoping to pick-up a new chain in Pueblo, but he was kicking himself for not planning that properly. He is riding Campy 11 speed, so just finding one of those chains was kicking his ass. (Who rides Campy?- my note.) He was on his Serotta with a very large seat-post mounted bike bag, with one bottle and a large camelback-type bag. He had a sweet new Giro-aero helmet and mounted on his bars were two Garmins, and his phone (keep in mind the Garmins were not working at all that point).  I think looking at those two relatively useless pieces of gear was annoying him more than anything. He was employing lights because he was generally "starting several hours before daylight to keep out of the heat of the day" and then riding until he felt done for the day.

Tom was being the same Tom that most of us have known to like and respect. He was as even keeled as we see him on any ride. He was being completely humble about his experience to that point and was surprised to hear he was the first dude over 50 at that point. He really seemed to be enjoying himself and said thanks to those who have been watching; although, he did not expect anyone to really pay attention. I think I had him stopped for about 15 or 20 minutes (Ryan Franz was updating wondering why Tom's icon would not move!), but he said he was happy to stop and chat because again, this was his easy day.I let him know I would update everyone at RMCC.

I did get his phone number and I don't really want to give it out, but if there are some of you who know Tom well and don't have it, contact me directly (billly.edwards.mdot@gmail.com) to get it, I think he again would enjoy it, and completely humbled to know you are tracking him. He is not paying attention much to the trackleaders page, so leaving a message there does not seem of much use.

For those still not up to date, here's the tracking link.

- Billy Edwards

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Platteville - Poudre Canyon Pre-Ride

On June 1, I pre-rode the Platteville - Poudre 400k route.  For those who rode the Poudre 400k or 600k in May, the differences are we head first to Platteville, and go only halfway to Rustic in Poudre Canyon, as it is busier this time of year than in May.

The jaunt to Platteville is a fairly easy, quick segment.  We're taking Rd. 2 / 168th St. east of I-25 and headng north on Rd. 19.  Had very light agriculture and oilfield traffic on my ride.

Heading up Rd. 38 from Platteville
 It's a nice time of day on the county roads out east.

Pelicans on Rd. 13
 And great vistas of rolling fields with the snowy Indian Peaks as backdrop.

Indian Peaks from Rd. 11.
Poudre Canyon was very quiet on my ride, but the water was too high for rafting. 

One of the new, big culverts in Poudre Canyon.
Poudre Canyon is beautifully green at this time of year. 


The water levels may have come down some, but should be a good flow with spring runoff.

High water in Poudre Canyon.
The artwork/graffiti on the big boulder on US-287 rotates on a frequent basis: 


At Windsor, I had to detour because the southbound roads were flooded, but waters have receded since.


Sunset on Rd. 7
A tranquil home stretch heading back to Boulder County. 

Rd. 7 near Rd. 8 (Erie Parkway)
This was a pretty serene course.  I enjoyed it.

-jle