Sunday, December 29, 2013

Some 1200k Faces


BWR finish - Dan Driscoll and Pam Wright - Pat Heller photo
Pam Wright - Prince William Sound - Dan Driscoll photo

BWR finish - JLE, Deb Banks, Drew Carlson

GRR start - Lothar Hennighausen and Bill Olsen
Last Chance finish - Bill Olsen

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Grand Randonnée (1200k+) Roundup for 2014!

Are you aiming for your first "Grand Randonnée" next year, or one you haven't ridden yet, or maybe an old favorite?

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

Five US 1200k-or-longer events are scheduled for next year:

Cascade 1200 June 21
Colorado High Country  July 15
California Central Coast  August 7 - new!
Natchez Trace 1500k September 23 - new!
Taste of North Carolina October 9

North of the border, BC Randonneurs is organizing the third edition of their
VanIsle 1200 - July 14
There are many other (39!) Randonneurs Mondiaux-sanctioned events on four continents outside of North America.  Just one example:

Some awards for extra motivation:
American Randonneur Challenge - finish two US 1200k's in the same year
Coast-to-Coast -  finish four different US 1200k's - over any number of years
Can-Am Award - finish a US and a Canadian 1200k in the same year
A few details on each ride ...

Seattle International Randonneurs' Cascade 1200  has started in years past on the west flank of the Cascades, crossing to the undulating eastern plains where it is typically dry, sunny, and toasty, finishing up on the scenic North Cascade Highway.  The route is structured into suggested daily stages, with sleeping facilities included at the end of each stage, to encourage rider cohesiveness and a fun ride.

The Colorado High Country 1200 visits the northern Colorado Rockies and the Wyoming Snowy Range, reaching as far west as Steamboat Springs.  The route takes in quieter, in some cases less familiar, mountain roads.  There are some long climbs, and two crossings over 10,000 ft., but generally modest grades, typically of western roads.  Like the Cascade, there are recommended stages.  The overnight controls provide motel-room sleeping facilities.

The inaugural California Central Coast 1200 builds on the successful 1000km brevet held by the Santa Cruz Randonneurs in 2010.  Riders start off by crossing the Santa Cruz mountains to the Pacific, down the Central Coast through Big Sur and on to San Luis Obispo.  From SLO, there's a loop inland to reach 1000km, and a spur to reach 1200km.  Riders can take Amtrak back to the San Jose start.

The inaugural Natchez Trace 1500k takes in the historic Natchez Trace Parkway from Tennessee to Alabama and Mississippi and back, building on their successful 1000k version.  Overnights provide sleeping facilities in "group style" bunk cabins, for that extra rustic touch.  The organizers point out that you have 118 hours 40 minutes to finish the 1500km, 28:40 more than for a 1200k, so plenty of time to enjoy the extra distance.

The Taste of 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 promises a route oriented to the scenic and evocative Blue Ridge Parkway.

 The BC Randonneurs' VanIsle 1200 is a wooded and maritime tour of Vancouver Island.  The middle segment of the ride ventures into the sparsely-populated northwest part of the island.  Organizers describe the VanIsle as a "low key" event, providing no lodging and one staffed control. Veterans of the first two VanIsle additions give it good marks as a pleasant, scenic ride!

Choosing and Riding a 1200k

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!

- - - 
So, plenty to whet your appetite, and lots of possibilities to challenge you in 2014.  So start imagining, planning, oh, and training!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Post-Flood Canyon Highways ... and our Brevet Season

On Thanksgiving, my wife Pat and I drove up Hwy. 7 (St. Vrain Canyon) and down US-34 (Big Thompson Canyon) on our way to/from Rocky Mountain National Park.  We wanted to see what these newly-reopened highways were like.

With these excursions, we have now visited all of the reopened highways - including Golden Gate Canyon / Hwy. 46 and Boulder Canyon / Hwy. 119 - except for Coal Creek Canyon / Hwy. 72.  Of course non-highways such as Lefthand Canyon, James Canyon, and Buckhorn Rd. (Stove Prairie) are still closed, so we'll have to see what happens with these.

Here is the helpful Boulder County Cycling Closure map.  As you can see, even Coal Creek Canyon is closed and much of the Peak-to-Peak Highway:
The repair and reopening (ahead-of-schedule) of US-36 from Lyons to Estes Park was rightly heralded as an heroic effort by CDOT, the National Guard, and contractors.  Bad as though the damage to US-36 was, it looked like Hwy. 7 actually has more and longer repaired segments, and US-34 even more than that.  So, again an impressive effort and accomplishment.

Bikes are still prohibited in both canyons (as well as Boulder Canyon and on US-36), probably because there is a lot of road work and off-road work going on: e.g., rebuilding feeder roads to homes and other structures.  I haven't found out the plans for allowing cyclists later on.

Jersey barriers in St. Vrain Canyon
If the roads open to cyclists, on most segments which have been reconstructed, the road is narrower than before, with little or no shoulder. Many of these segments have jersey barriers rather than dirt shoulders, so cyclists really would have no place to go to evade problems or just get off the road. (The jersey barriers are there because they have only built up the road bed so wide, beyond which are sheer dropoffs, or cliff walls.)

Another curve in St. Vrain Canyon

The original shoulder width - St. Vrain Canyon
Above the canyons had less damage - Trail Ridge Road in good shape

In contrast to Hwy. 7, US-34 carries heavy traffic - comparable to US-36 - but has been much more safe / comfortable to ride than US-36 because of its ample shoulders. The new layout with narrower segments and jersey barriers changes that.

Big Thompson exhibits a swath of descruction - Pat Heller photo
This is in no way a criticism of CDOT or the contractors, who've made the compromises they needed to and provided a safe, well-engineered roadway for motorists on an ambitious schedule. Also, while the stretches of new asphalt are apparent, the underlying efforts are less obvious. In many places, contractors had to recreate the entire roadbed, to a depth of ten or twenty feet or more, judging from the scoured-away areas you can see on the opposite bank.

Big Thompson: the riverbed now a field of boulders and silt; houses perilously cling, or were swept away without a trace - Pat Heller photo
Brevets Impact
  • Drake Doubleback April 200k - Kersey Kick has been substituted.  Even assuming cyclists are allowed on US-34 by April, it would probably not be a very comfortable riding prospect.
  • Stove Prairie April 200k - Larimer County says the currently closed Buckhorn Road probably won't reopen until 2014.  When in 2014 is not clear.  So we may have to reroute.
  • 400k's, 600k's, and June 1000k - These three weekends of events in May and June are the most problematic, because it may not be feasible to use the roads they depend on: Lefthand Canyon (probably will open and be ok to ride), James Canyon (may not be), St. Vrain Canyon, Devil's Gulch (still closed at this point), and Big Thompson Canyon.  So new routes will likely be needed.
  • Golden Gate Gadabout July 200k - May require a change, or we use the Vail Pass Volley instead!
  • Peak-to-Peak 300k - Because of Big Thompson and Devil's Gulch, this route may need changing.
  • James Canyon Jaunt October 200k - We'll just have to see, but there are plenty of alternatives.
On the bright side, this may introduce some variety and novelty in our brevet routes.  All while we keep our mountain neighbors in our thoughts.


A footnote about Flagstaff Road (not used on rando routes, but just FYI) - Flagstaff Road reopened a couple weeks ago to the general public.  The only actual road damage (at least as far up as the amphitheatre) is near the base, just up from Gregory Canyon: most of the upbound lane has been washed away for 100 ft. or so, so it's one lane travel there, governed by a traffic light.  Elsewhere, considerable shoulder work has been done to remove excess soil in some places and replace dirt that washed away in others.

Update 30-Dec-2013
Now that the canyon highways have been reopened to cyclists, certain sections now bear this warning, such as here, at the top of St. Vrain Canyon, graced by Meeker Peak in the background. 
This particular section - between Hwy. 72 and Estes Park - seems odd, because it has little discernible damage, except for some dirt shoulder erosion near Longs Peak, and between this sign and Meeker Park, there's a full paved shoulder.
In other cases, only sections of canyons (e.g., Big Thompson) are signed with this warning.
 A reminder that some of these repairs are temporary, and work is continuing. 

For example, a short stretch of Hwy. 119 (Boulder Canyon) has been dug up for some road base repair.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Riding the New "Black Forest and Back" 209km Permanent!

On November 9, I tried out the new "Black Forest and Back" 209km Permanent.   It was a nice day, starting in the upper 30's and zooming up into the 60's under sunny skies.  With some wind, of course.
The route is pretty straight and straighforward, heading up from the Plains into more rolling terrain and then into some wooded areas at the turnaround, gaining 2,000 ft. along the way.
An early start heading out to Bennett, in the land of the flat horizons.
I head off into a moderate SE/SW headwind, the typical prevailing wind pouring off the Palmer Divide.

Kiowa-Bennett Road is now fully paved, but some sections are older and "wearier" than others, such as the Arapahoe County section out of Bennett.  (Still, very light traffic, and even the large ag trucks are polite.)

Outbound, Pikes Peak is a beacon from early on.

This section crosses gully after gully, reminiscent of Eastern Colorado on the Last Chance.

Through Elbert, the valley becomes more wooded and meadow-like, some of the most pleasant scenery of the route.  Black Forest 300k riders are familiar with this stretch.
 And yes, it's Pikes Peak again!

After transiting Kiowa and Elbert, we're turning west.  Here's Pikes Peak framed by a (pioneer?) cabin and a Manitou Springs streetcar, mysteriously relocated and juxtaposed.

On Hodgen Road, they've smoothed off a couple of the rollingest segments with cut and fill.  There's now a nice bike shoulder, and trees cut back from the shoulders.  This should provide a fire break, and more sun during icy times of year (an issue, if you believe the warning signs along this stretch).  The short but steep rollers impeded visibility, so this ought to be safer for everyone.
This new layout gives a park-like feeling (in contrast to the former "woody thicket" atmosphere characteristic of Black Forest).

 Our route traverses some of the severest burn sections from last summer's Black Forest fire.  This is the first time I'd seen this in person, and it made a strong impression.

Lots of cleanup, but still a lot of ashe and charcoaled trees, too.

Turning on Black Forest Road near the turnaround, a final glimpse at our friend, PP.

The Black Forest checkpoint is aptly named, and I had been looking forward to a BBQ sandwich for some miles. 
Ironically the real firehouse across the street is no more.  Only an empty lot strewn with straw and posted with neighbors' signs about the fire.

The way back reminds you of how evocative area this is, with big, old farms and ranches, like the Triple B. 
Downhill with a tailwind made the trip back more than hour faster than getting to Black Forest.
Nothing like that to put a smile on your face!
You just never know the connections you'll make. At a store in Kiowa, the checkout guy asked me about my jersey - turns out he used to live in Los Gatos, just down the road from Santa Cruz. What a change of scene for him this must be!
Driving back west into the sun, after a great ride of expansive terrain and quietude, it's been a good day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tammie's Taste of Carolina

Taste of Carolina 1200K
October 10, 2013
Northern Piedmont-Coastal Loop
- by Tammie Nakamura

Taste of Carolina was a grand tour of the southeastern plains and coastal lowlands of Southern Appalachia.   The leftovers from a tropical front stalled in Virginia creating moist, overcast and blustery riding conditions throughout the ride but also helped with friendly temperatures in the 60s and 70s.

Tony Goodnight and Martin Shipp at rider check in and bike check.
That's Vincent Muoneke from Seattle on the right- TOC will be his SIXTH 1000k and longer ride for 2013!   Might he be the rumored rider who plans to break the randonnée record of 8 this year?

47 riders and one pink rubber duckie prepare to launch on a 749 mile ride hither and yon.
Refreshments at the control in Belvidere (Store constructed in 1883).
  The stalled front in Virginia generated 10-15 NE mph headwinds from Lumberton to the Coast.  I considered what it might be like to do the equivalent of a 365 mile climb and the yellow-bellied chicken in me kept me company in the rain by kicking up a ruckus.  The warmth of the control in Belvidere invited everybody to linger with a variety of home made treats (Store constructed in 1883, mile 279).

The foodie in me delighted in the tradition of locally crafted meats in NC.  I wondered how I could pack away 20 lbs of this man’s lovely hand-stuffed breakfast sausages to feed the CHC riders next year. 
 Tony, Martin and Bob expertly handled logistical glitches on the course on the fly.  Construction issues blocked rider progress across the bridge from Point Harbor to the Outer Barrier Island en route to Nags Head.  Here Tony rounds up vehicles to convoy batches of riders across the 3 mile bridge.  I’m quite certain the event made the evening news. 
 A TOC rider takes a personal moment to climb to the Wright Brothers National monument at Kill Devil Hills, the location of the first successful air flight.   It made me smile to learn that Wilbur and Orville Wright began as bicycle mechanics.    It made me smile even more to know I didn’t have to do that climb.
Nags Head Control - Greg Courtney photo
View from the Nags Head control - Greg Courtney photo
Another Nags Head view - Greg Courtney photo

Ever present fields of cotton, Soybeans, peanuts and tobacco
Day 1 Somewhere near Franklin
Leaving the Washington control across the Pamlico bay river near Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge
Nerd alert: Wow- Carolina Flatwoods, cypress-gum swamps and Bottomland hardwoods…A fragment of the ecosystems with highest endemic biota and biological diversity and in the southeast and dating back to the Pleistocene
I’m an Ecology nerd and couldn’t help but relish the large river flood plan forests and the Carolinian flatwoods and bottomland hardwood forests. I’m never one to pass up a nature moment and the memorable moment on this ride was partaking in the March of the Possoms. 
Riding in the dark and in rainy conditions, I encountered dozens and dozens of possoms tiptoeing along the edge of the road, picking off frogs. Many happily accepted a bit of peanut butter sandwich, friendly as squirrels.   Martin mentioned that most Carolinians live a lifetime and never see a live Possom- seems I had a special Taste of Carolina. 
The downside of riding through a humid coastal flood plain?  The sundry biting, sucking, chewing and stinging buggie thingies will strip the meat from your bones if you stop for a nature break and somehow curiously find their way into your nooks and crannies even if you don’t stop.
Tony Goodnight is a master organizer. In addition to running and coordinating all things for the TOC 1200K, he simultaneously ran separate 1000K, 600K, 400K, 300K and 200K rides. His head didn’t explode even once. In an astonishing demonstration of stamina, wit and outright craziness, he designs new routes for every ride each year.
He promises the new 1200K route from Charlottesville to Georgia and back next year will be a rib tickler!  
A bit tattered at the edges at the finish.  Ever helpful, Tony is yanking on my pony tail to keep my head from dropping off my shoulders- I had my first encounter with Shermers neck on this ride.
The riders would like to thank the volunteers who helped make the ride possible.
  • Mary and Tom Florian – Thanks for leading us out, helping us in Atlantic Beach and managing the folks riding the series!
  • Martin Shipp – A million thanks to Martin and Bob for canvassing the course to make sure the riders were safe and well cared for.  Martin: thanks for your kind humor when the queen of darkness was getting grumpy
  • Bob Bingham – Thanks for the bungee cord!
  • Ian Hands – Best mutton chops I've ever seen!  Thanks for your PBP stories!
  • Joel Lawrence –Thanks for sharing your gorgeous home at Nags Head and cooking sandwiches and espresso for us!
  • Jerry Phelps – Thanks for your encouragement in Franklin
  • Marcia Swan – Many Thanks!
  • Mike Foster – Was it you who showed up with pizza in the middle of the night?  Thanks!
My apologies to anybody that I forgot or if I've bungled details above -  Thanks!
Above all: a heart felt thankyou to Tony Goodnight for designing, organizing and implementing such a fabulous event. 


I asked Tony to point me to an example of the kind of landscape that might be on next year’s TOC.  He suggested that I ride the Blue Ridge Parkway and check out Mount Mitchel.  It was truly the icing on the cake for the whole North Carolina experience!  Riding from Little Switzerland (Blue Ridge mile marker mi 334) south to Crabtree Falls (340) and Craggy Gardens (364) on punchy  but short (6-8%) grades got my attention.  Day 2 NC128 for a wobbly ascent to Mount Mitchell State Park. 
Locals call the ride THE ASSAULT ON MOUNT MITCHELL. HA!!  The mountain kicked my can and my post 1200K rubbery legs in the first two miles with 8-10 percent grades.  From the parkway to summit is 4.7 miles with a peak elevation to about 6700ft  (which is purported the tallest peak east of the Mississippi).  I was sad to leave NC-would like to COPY-PASTE the gorgeous landscape right into Colorado.  Must add the return to Mount Mitchell to my bucket list.
The Blue Ridge extends from southern Pennsylvania to northern Georgia. It is one of the most floristically diverse ecoregions, and includes Appalachian oak forests, northern hardwoods, Southeastern spruce-fir forests. Area near Little Switzerland dominated by oak-hickory-pine forest. Gorgeous stuff!

 - Tammie

Editor's Postscript: First off, a big congratulations to Tammie and the other ToC finishers!

Tammie at Finish - Biker Bob Bingham photo
 Tammie plans to add some tales and commentary to her photos, including perhaps the story of the bungee cord.

Martin consults with Tammie, replete with bungee cord - Biker Bob Bingham photo

Tony has varied his Taste of Carolina route each year he's held the event.  Last year, when Paul Foley and I rode it (you can have a look at Paul's report and mine), the first half was in the mountains and foothills.  Next year, with the Blue Ridge on tap, ought to be a treat!