Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Grand Randonnée (1200k+) Roundup for 2018!

For 2018, are you aiming for your first Grand Randonnée? Or maybe you're a veteran and are looking for one you haven't ridden yet ... or coming back to an old favorite?

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

Eight (!) US 1200k-or-longer events are scheduled for next year:

Carolina Spring May 3
Blue Ridge to Bay 1200k May 31 - new!
Cascade 1200 June 23
Coulee Challenge  August 13 - new!
California Central Coast  August 26 
Great Lakes Mac & Cheese August 30 - new!
Taste of Carolina September 20
Florida Tip to Tail 1600 November 4 - new!

Some awards for extra motivation:

American Randonneur Challenge - finish two or more US 1200k's in the same year
Coast-to-Coast - finish four different US 1200k's - over any number of years

A few details on each ride ...

DC Randonneurs' Blue Ridge to Bay 1200k is conceived as a tour of "Great Spots" - including national monuments in Washington DC, the Blue Ridge mountains, the Cheseapeake Bay shore, and towns and villages in Northern Virginia and Maryland.  One of the overnights is used for two successive nights, making logistics a bit easier. This is DCR's first 1200k, and is influenced by their successful Appalachian 1000k in the same area.

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 inaugural Coulee Challenge is a collaboration between the Minnesota Randonneurs and Driftless Randonneurs (of southwest Wisconsin). The route is portrayed as pastoral, with some stiff climbing challenges across the ridgelines of successive coulees.  The route is loosely a figure eight heading southeast from Apple Valley, MN and then back.

The second-edition California Central Coast 1200 builds on the successful and popular inaugural edition in 2014.  On that ride, riders started 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 was a loop inland to reach 1000km, and a spur to reach the 1200km mark.  The 2014 route was point-to-point. There will be some changes of route, if only because a giant mudslide has cut Big Sur in two.

The inaugural Great Lakes Mac & Cheese is being co-organized by the Great Lakes Randonneurs and the Detroit Randonneurs. The route is almost a loop (connected by a ferry from the finish to the start) transiting the Mackinac Bridge to visit the Michigan UP, and back via cheese-filled Wisconsin. It is billed as designed for camaraderie with comfortable distances between the provided overnight controls.

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 route was oriented to the scenic and evocative Blue Ridge Parkway.

 The South Florida Randonneurs' inaugural Florida Tip to Tail 1600 - at nearly 1,000 miles - is the longest grand randonnée yet in the US (the longest in North America: the 2000km Vancouver Island Ultimate Island Explorer), yet it is point-to-point in one state. The route offers Gulf coastal riding, the hills of central Florida, and a finish via the Florida Keys to the southernmost point of the continental US.

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Outside North America, there are many other Randonneurs Mondiaux-sanctioned grand randonnées, which you can explore via the Randonneurs Mondiaux calendar.  Just one example:

The second edition of the Ronde Aliénor d’Aquitaine 1200k (France) is a loop encompassing the Pyrenees, the hilly Dordogne region, and Bordeaux, including segments along the Atlantic coast. It is named for the powerful and legendary Eleanor of Aquitaine, duchess of Aquitaine (the region circumnavigated by this ride), and queen consort of both France and England. One veteran of the 2014 event calls it "nice, if challenging." That edition had about 150 riders. Organizers say there will be some sleeping accommodations at most controls, so more of a flexible riding arrangement.

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.

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 two flavors: 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, hopefully 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. 

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 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 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!
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So, plenty to whet your appetite, and lots of possibilities to challenge you in 2018.  So start imagining, planning, oh, and training!


Monday, October 30, 2017

Charlie Henderson

Last Friday, our friend Charlie Henderson passed away, after battling cancer. We very much miss him. Charlie was a founding member of the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club in 1993, and its president for 20 years. You can read Mark Lowe's fine profile on his RMCC Colorado Triple Crown blog. Here are details of Charlie's randonneuring side.

Riding ...

Challenge Series and BMB - Charlie had a longtime interest in endurance cycling. He brought the "Challenge Series" to the RMCC at its formation. These are mountain doubles such as Denver-Aspen, and form the basis for today's Colorado Triple Crown.

In 1992, he and a few RMCC riding pals headed up to Boston to ride the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200k, at that time the only Grand Randonnée in the US. He would ride BMB again in 1994 and 1998. After BMB'98 finished, Charlie attended the meeting that created Randonneurs USA, which became the new sanctioning body for US randonneuring. Charlie lent his support to the fledgling organization, and became RUSA #6.

At Mortagne-au-Perche on the rainy PBP'07

Paris Brest Paris - Charlie rode PBP'95, the first PBP after the RMCC began hosting qualifying brevets. He would also ride PBP'99, '03, and '07. For some of these, his son Peter would come over from England to support him. In 2003, Charlie's titanium frame cracked on the first day. An official lent him his racing bike with electronic shifting, and Charlie managed to ride 1000km of the PBP course.

At Byers control on Last Chance 2009

Colorado Last Chance - Charlie rode the second edition of the Last Chance, when it had only a dozen or so riders. He said it was a hot year with ceaseless wind, even in the wee hours of the morning. He rode it again in 2006 - another windy year!

At the Glen Haven Store on the 2005 Flèche

Flèche Team Prairie Dog - Charlie rode the first Colorado flèche in 2002, as part of the only team that year, Team Prairie Dog. As a rancher, he had mixed feelings about prairie dogs, but became fonder of them after riding on this team. He would ride with the Prairie Dogs four more times.

Boston-Montreal-Boston1992, 1994, 1998
Paris Brest Paris1995, 1999, 2003, 2007
Colorado Last Chance2002, 2006
Flèche Team Prairie Dog2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007

Organizing and Mentoring ...

Brevet Series - As the RMCC was forming in 1993, Gary Koenig, who would be RBA from 1993 to 1998, approached the club to host local brevets. Charlie gave the brevets his enthusiasm, and insured important support from the club (and certainly committed, because he was riding them himself!).

At the Atwood, KS control on Last Chance 2004

Colorado Last Chance 1200 - When RAAM veteran Bob Fourney proposed a 1200k heading to Kansas, Charlie latched right on to the idea. That area of eastern Colorado and western Kansas was very familiar to Charlie from his ranching ties. He could describe terrain, crops, towns, and the history of the "Great American Desert" in detail. The "Last Chance highway" - US-36 - was also a road he had traveled in his college days from Dartmouth to go skiing in Colorado.

Charlie arranged the lodging and other logistics, forming long-term relationships with the motel and store owners. Especially in the early years of the event, Charlie was a one-man support team out on the prairie.

Colorado High Country 1200 - Charlie's special contribution to the High Country was the Wyoming Snowy Range. Despite the thought this would be tough on the riders, it turned out to be a pinnacle of the event, and made it a two-state event. And of course he took care of lodging, dropbags, and course monitoring as he'd done for the Last Chance.

Charlie above all was a mentor to riders, and a friend you could count on. He coached more than one PBP aspirant in how to train, how to plan, and how to execute for a successful finish, no matter what the rider's level of ability.

Charlie will be remembered by so many within the randonneuring and ultra communities and everyone within the club he led for two decades, and really by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

Old Dennis 219k Permanent - a nice ride in Texas!

At the end of April, we went to Texas to visit my family. I was looking for a perm to ride from  Weatherford, where we were staying, and found a couple of good ones. (Thanks to Dan Driscoll for providing the other one!)

Pam Wright's Old Dennis 219km permanent seemed especially good, as the roads looked quiet, and there was limited southbound mileage toward the end of the ride, when the prevailing southerly winds might become an issue.

If anything, the route was more serene and pastoral than expected, a delight to ride.

A nice clockwise loop starting in Weatherford

A quiet start out Old Dennis Road (the old road to Dennis, Tex.).

The route veers onto even smaller, more rustic roads such as Kickapoo Falls Road, zigging and zagging past ranches.

Much of the route is on quiet farm-to-market roads such as FM 1188 and FM 1189 pictured here. Texas farm to market roads are well-engineered roads constructed in the early 20th century for economic reasons: to provide safe, quick ways for farmers to get their crops to market, without having to brave slow and uncertain rutted paths.

A nice view of hundreds of acres of tree dotted pastures and woods from this ridge.

This ranch name is both bemusing and faintly foreboding.

Typical flora - cactus and wildflowers - grace this guardrail.

Spring wildflowers abound!

The day before leaving for Texas, I had taken a spill on my bike.  This made riding the perm less comfortable, a minor distraction. Still, a clerk at the penultimate control asked if I'd crashed upon seeing this

Temps ranged from 70º to near 90º, so a celebratory chilled Perrier at the finish hit the spot!

A big thanks to Pam for designing this quiet, pastoral route, and for setting me up to ride it!


Monday, May 22, 2017

Hump to Pahrump - a 205km Perm in Nevada

New miles - priceless!

On April 25, I rode Richard Stum's 205km "Hump to Pahrump" Permanent in Nevada. Tagging another American Explorer state was an excuse, I admit, but this just sounded like a fun route.

Richard tells us he created a number of Nevada perms to ride in the winter when it's cold where lives in Utah. This one starts essentially in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, heads west over Mountain Springs Summit (5490 ft.), the high point and "hump" of the route, to the next town of Pahrump, and back. I picked this route because it looked like it had plenty of western scenery ... and simple navigation!

This RWGPS map illustrates the hump, and the route's simplicity ... click to enlarge.

To get there, it's an easy hop from Denver to Las Vegas, less than two hours' flying time.

Late April means plenty of snow at the Continental Divide in the Rockies.
This is probably near Aspen.

Lake Mead's desert landscape - on the approach to Las Vegas - is a contrast.

In Las Vegas, the entertainment starts as soon as you step off the plane!

A shuttle to a nearby hotel makes it easy to ride the permanent without renting a car.

An early start, after the motel breakfast ...

I've mapped the 2½ miles to the perm start ...


... and head out after dawn.

A cold front has come through, making for a brisk northerly wind in the Las Vegas environs, and temps around 60º. The first miles are a succession of traffic lights as we leave Las Vegas proper. But good bike lanes and alert motorists.

Soon, the route climbs into the foothills west of town, complete with flowering desert plants.

I stop for hydration top-off at a store ten miles out, as Richard's cue sheet tells us no services for the next 40 miles (that is, until Pahrump). It turns out this is not needed today, with a temp range mainly in the 60's and 70's. But soon it will be quite toasty here. Right about now is the ideal window of opportunity to do this ride.

A "bikes prohibited" sign unexpectedly comes into view!
No mistaking the message here. But this is the only road to Pahrump. (In fact the highway was constructed in the late 1960's just to get to Pahrump.)

It's a construction zone. I ask the foreman, and he says it's fine to go ahead, because they're not even working today. This provides six miles of traffic-free climbing. That's some luck!

At the summit, I need to don extra layers, as it is chilly with a brisk headwind from the west. It's a pedaling descent into this wind. I think this must be the normal prevailing wind, perhaps a bit stronger today ... or maybe not. I vie against the wind to make it into the double-digits.

Here's a closer look at the snow-capped peaks to the north.

Oops, riding in the airplane lane! 

Pahrump greets you with a parade of billboards to illustrate the entertainment possibilities in town. 

In Pahrump, you pass numerous convenience stores and eateries - plenty of opportunity to replenish. The actual Pahrump control is on the way back through town, though.

The route makes a circuit on local roads in the arid plain west of town.
Here's the far reach of the course, where the course veers east, and you can sit up to catch a tailwind!

Interesting, but not our route.

An upbeat street name!

After a calorific lunch stop, we bid adieu to Pahrump ...

Some desert flowers ...

... and cactus along the route.

Fortunately, this is also a bike lane.

The big middle third of this route is open expanse.

Soon we reach the climb back over Mountain Springs Summit and the desert foothills scenery.

The climb is gradual but extended.
It's been a nice ride, and good to see the summit again (with a tailwind).

It's more desert formations on the descent ...

... and the first views of glamorous Las Vegas.

A good day and a good ride - thanks for the route, Richard!