Friday, August 28, 2009

Summer Reading!

What better after a long summer's day ride than to relax, sit back, and read a good story? Here are three great ones by fellow randonneurs who wandered far afield this summer to experience some memorable events!

The Super Brevet Scandinavia 1200k visited all the Scandinavian countries, in part by dint of ferries such as this one (M. Thomas photo):

Mark Thomas started well-rested after four non-biking weeks in South America. How did he fare? And what about those ferries? You can read Mark's story of the SBS and more on his blog.

London-Edinburgh-London (1400km) is always a treat for its backroads, evocative scenery, sheep, and beans on toast for breakfast. This year added some very stormy rains into the mix (S. Klaassen photo):

Spencer Klaassen rode his fixie (what else?) on this one, despite the occasional 1:5 (20%) grade, which I remember well from riding Britain End-to-End some years back. Have a look at Spencer's captioned slide show.
The Bavarian 1200 took in a full circuit of Bavaria, incursions into the Alps included, of course! Some of the tiny towns I remember from my own days living in Munich - a cycling paradise, if you don't mind the occasional grade. Here is Kochelsee or Walchensee (E. O'Brien photo):

Fixeuse Emily O'Brien had so much fun on this one, she ended up with 180 extra credit kilometers by the time she crossed the finish line. See her blog for the whole story, from wunderschön to wienerwurst!

I savored these stories, and bet you will too. None of these rides were a walk in the park, and yet Mark, Spencer, and Emily all had a great time in the end.

Doesn't it inspire you? It makes me envious to have missed out! But there are more rides like these to come - have a look at the US 1200k schedule, starting with the Cascade and Shenandoah next year, and farther afield, too. Our own Eric Simmons is slated to ride Audax Australia's Sidney-Melbourne 1200k this November.

Read and dream!


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Happy Days Along the Peak to Peak

It would be hard to imagine a more beautiful day for a ride than the one the Peak-to-Peak 300K crew enjoyed this past weekend. Sun without excessive heat, mostly favorable winds and the coolness of a late day thunderstorm that never arrived made the miles of climbing fly by.

(l.-r.) Steve Rudolph, Josh Haskins, Irene Takahashi, Christie Caldwell, Maria Osborne and Anne Tapp await the drop of the flag in Superior. (photos: Stephen Whiteman)

Escorted to the top of Morgul-Bismarck by John Lee Ellis, who, with Catherine Shenk, pre-road the course the week before, our group stayed together through the darkness until we began the false flat that marks the approach to Coal Creek Canyon. A terrific morning for climbing, we saw many more train cars than autos on our way to Wondervu (this would prove to be a continuing theme).

Sunrise reaches the canyon as the road turns upward below Coal Creek.

After the descent, Pinecliffe proved to be the site for the day's Great Leveler: a broken-down train brought the group back together after the hour-plus climb. Almost everyone waited, some for almost an hour, before the engines started grinding, allowing us to pass. Only Leslie Sutton avoided the party, as she was somehow psychically inspired to stop for a latte in Coal Creek.

(l.-r.) Christie, Steve, Maria, Andrea and Anne plot their escape while Josh contemplates questions of locomotive Quality in Pinecliffe.

Climbing to Nederland, we once again broke up into singles and small groups on the way to overall fast times. The views across the Peak to Peak were stunning, the climb up to Devil's Gulch eased by a stiff westerly wind.

Mount Meeker from the South along the Peak to Peak Highway.

A particularly nasty uphill wind greeted riders on their descent through the shaded curves and jagged cliff walls of Big Thompson Canyon. This lead to some concern about what the plains might have on offer, but the wind seemed to follow us around, first to Platteville and then home.

Brian Rapp, Christie Caldwell and Anne Tapp steel themselves for the final leg from Niwot.

Congratulations are in order to all the riders, but especially to Josh Haskins, who completed his first 300K; and to first-time randonneuses Christie Caldwell, Anne Tapp and Maria Osborne, who, at Irene Takahashi's suggestion, used the P2P as final preparation for the LotoJa Classic, a 200 mile race from Logan UT to Jackson, WY. Thank you all for making it a great day!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Plenty of Fun, Mountains, and Crops on the 1000k!

The 400k/600k/1000k brevets on July 25 had a good turnout ... luring those who can't resist a long ride!

Coordinating the events gives riders a better chance of riding with others at least for the first 400k-500k. This worked out well.

This 1000k is in three (different) loops: 250 miles (400k), 201 miles, and 171 miles. They mix mountains and plains riding. This brings you back to the ride start between loops, where you can get fresh clothes and batteries, restock, or eat at a local restaurant.

Pictured here gearing up for the 4am start are L-R, Stephen Whiteman, JLE, Brenda Barnell from Texas, Eric Simmons, Leslie Sutton, Bob Barday, Robin Phelps also now from Texas and our friend for years from Durango, and Mike Fox.

Loop 1: 400km - The entire ridership bunched into two groups for the first 100k to Lyons. That's the rando spirit!

Here are (L-R) John Flanigan, Curt Marwitz, and Irene Takahashi refreshing themselves at Lyons before the big St. Vrain Canyon climb that would spread riders out.

It is Irene's and Curt's longest event distance ever! And John Flanigan is wrapping up his qualification for the Last Chance 1200k and a Super-Randonneur award.

After a 4,000 ft. climb, we see that Meeker Peak still has a smidgen of snow in its couloir. Normally the Meeker Park lottery to see who guesses when the snow tongue will disappear is wrapping up about the time of our June 600k, but here it is a month later!

... and its pal, Longs Peak, looks ok, too, with still some snowy spots.

Descending the hairpin Devil's Gulch switchbacks brings us to the tasty refreshment of Glen Haven General Store cinnamon buns, here perched invitingly atop the handlebars.

A dirt segment - like Larimer County Rd. 22H exiting Big Thompson Canyon - only adds spice to a randonnée!

After the Horsetooth climbs, it's a sudden transition to wide open plains in the shadow of Wyoming. Here a modest farmhouse's only company now are the wildflowers.

Despite a moist forecast, we'd lucked out until late afternoon. Here Irene Takahashi (400k), Leslie Sutton (600k), Robin Phelps (1000k), and Brenda Barnell (1000k) take shelter in a drenching rain in Milliken waiting for a railroad crossing to clear - Stephen Whiteman photo.
Loop 2 (201 miles): Pre-dawn light over Boulder Creek reveals plenty of moisture in the air but the promise of a sunny start!
First sun highlight the amber stubble of a field on WCR 38 ...

... and high corn a mile down the road (a terrain feature that will be sheltering us from the wind later on!):

Hay bales like giant bricks dot the landscape - it's been a good season!
Suddenly, beyond Kersey, we're out into wide-open prairie, with plenty of prairie grass ... but no trees.
Our wet spring has only enhanced and prolonged the wildflower display!
We pass the northern reach of the sprawling Guttersen Ranch. We'll cut through it again on the way back.
We pass the Dearfield townsite. Settled in the late 19th century, the promoter sold most of the buildings later, but the remaining ones are now being preserved, as you can see by the crossbeams.
Exiting US-34 puts us into even quieter territory, the Weldona Valley. Here it's another busy day at Al's Service in Orchard.
But soon it's a return to bigger places, as we ride past this looming structure welcoming us to Fort Morgan.
Making a turn, we see we're on Morgan County Rd. Q, our sign that we're heading mountains-ward!
But what do these cloud formations portend? Stratus and cumulus combined - what could it mean??
Turns out only a thunderhead or two out of our path, as we view them tranquilly from the end of the second loop in Louisville - a dry day, and full of promise!

Loop 3 (171 miles): It's a refreshing, chilly start to the day (or night), with a starry sky. After some pleasant miles through Hygiene and the foothills, it's the scenic and always impressive Big Thompson Canyon narrows ... where if you have time to crane your head, you're sure to see bighorn sheep and other critters.
After a stop at the Estes Park Safeway control (just a stone's throw away from the Stanley Hotel where characters in "The Shining" were battling shrubbery and Jack Nicholson, but never thought to check out the store's customer service), it's Devil's Gulch Road for a brilliant and deserted mountain scene.
See that pair of puffy cloudlets in the lee of Long's and Meeker? By the time riders descended to Loveland on the Plains, those had become a windblown plume with showers moving off the foothills, only to catch up with riders later in a blustery episode. Meanwhile, I'm pleased to savor the moment stop the Devil's Gulch switchbacks, and all's right with the world:
Thanks for reading. Try a 1000k ... or 600k or 400k ... for yourself!


Monday, August 3, 2009

Dirt Road Randonneuring

On two Saturdays in the last month, Eric Althen and I ventured north to explore Will deRosset’s seasonal permanents, which traverse the hills west of Fort Collins. The Red Dirt Randonnée and the Manhattan Express each explore isolated areas of incredible beauty, their miles of dirt roads transporting us on a tour far removed from our usual routes.

Not far from home as the crow flies, but a whole different world.

The rides are structured similarly, each climbing to Red Feather Lakes before descending Red Feather Lakes Rd. (CR74E) back to Fort Collins. The roads taken along the way are very different, however.

We rode the Manhattan Express, a ride Will describes as “a two-climb route,” over the July 4th weekend. After crossing South Horsetooth to Masonville, we proceeded several miles towards Stove Prairie before turning onto the dirt road that wound its way through forest and alpine meadow to Box Prairie and ultimately over Pennock Pass.

A typical stretch of road on Will deRosset’s permanents: red dirt winding into the distance.

Miles of climbing were quickly undone by the steep, gravelly descent down to the Poudre, which we then followed upriver towards the day’s second significant climb. Climbing out of Glen Echo, we found ourselves looking for traction up a nasty 2.5 mile track averaging 9% grade, with substantial sections at 12-14%. Turning on to the ride’s namesake, Manhattan Road, we climbed at a milder 6% for several more miles before dropping into Red Feather Lakes. Refortified by ice cream and plenty of water, we finished the day with the rolling descent into Livermore and a final twenty miles of quiet red dirt roads back to town.

Looking back at where we’d been, late day north of Fort Collins.

Having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on the first of Will’s rides, this past weekend Eric and I returned for the Red Dirt Randonnée. Will made the ride sound milder than the Manhattan Express by promising that the climbing was broken into “smaller pieces,” which, in retrospect, was accurate: instead of the M-E’s two major climbs, one stretching over 25 miles, the RDR brought us five climbs of three to six miles, none as nasty, but cumulatively just as challenging as those we encountered on the M-E. Heading north from Fort Collins, we made our way to the Wyoming border, another beautiful climb over a succession of false summits through grassy fields rippling in the wind.

Eric at the Wyoming border.

We then turned to the winding, varied ascent through Prairie Divide to Red Feather Lakes. This road was as peaceful and isolated as any we had ridden, at times rising through open prairies, climbing through the woods, and following creeks through small canyons rimmed by fantastic, otherworldly rock formations.

An open expanse above near Prairie Divide.

Not only did these rides take us through areas of Colorado enjoyed by very few, far from the cars and reflected heat our usual paved routes, they also challenged us from start to finish. As a randonneur, these were my first experiences with having to watch the clock closely, as making the controles on the way up to Red Feather Lakes in time was by no means a given. Our efforts were easily exceeded by the reward each day, however, as we enjoyed truly epic rides.

- stephen whiteman