Monday, January 30, 2017

Favo(u)rite Distances: RUSA vs. Audax UK

Randonneuring has lots in common among all riders and organizers. But each country is different in what they emphasize and how they do things. Vive la différence!

I had a look at the Audax UK annual report (thanks to our friend Mark Thomas for the link). Interesting how our ridership levels differ at the various distances. For Audax UK, the most popular distance is 100km. For RUSA, it's 200km. So I decided to compare the overall 2016 stats (click chart to enlarge). It's kind of a dramatic difference:

As you can see, 100km is a hugely popular distance for AUK riders. For us, I think we are using Populaires as intros to the longer distances, starting with the 200k's. So we are not emphasizing the populaire distances as much. Some RUSA regions offer only a few. And of course we don't have a 50km (31 mile) distance at all.

At the longer distances, the ridership contrast is still pronounced. Looks like we have more folks going after 300k's, 400k's, and 600k's. One difference, admittedly, is that we have a lot of 1000k events and a good offering of 1200k's every year. The 2016 1200k offering in the UK is probably the fascinating Scottish Highlands 1200k you may have read about from our rando colleague Ian Flitcroft in American Randonneur.

Eldorado Canyon near Boulder

Of course, this year, our four 1200k's are not going to compare with London-Edinburgh-London's ridership. :-)

And Audax UK's absolute ridership is actually greater than ours (overall, though not at specific distances), despite their being an island nation much smaller than ours. It's all just a difference in styles, history perhaps, and emphasis.

So there you have it.  Your thoughts appreciated!


This is the second in a series of "stats" posts that I hope you'll find interesting. I have not yet published the first - about RUSA membership - so you can feel free to anticipate!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Texas Rando Stampede 1200k - Fun or What?

2016 was the third edition of the Texas Rando Stampede 1200, 
hosted by the Lone Star Randonneurs, plus Houston Randonneurs and Hill Country Randonneurs.

2013 Logo
You ride through a succession of terrains: from open, semi-western, to hilly (in the Texas Hill Country), to more mellow and wooded in East Texas. 
The Stampede is well organized and supported. Services are plenteous. 
And there were definitely lots of amenable calories to be had en route.

SPOT tracker trace showing the three stages: Waxahachie - Marble Falls - Brenham - Crockett - Waxahachie

I had not ridden the Stampede until now, chiefly because it is smack in the middle of our core brevet series. Even if "Colorado's snowiest months" (March and April) have been kind to cyclists, you still need to work out how to get in your SR series around the Stampede. In my case I rode our early-bird 200k, pre-rode the 300k, then came back after the Stampede to finish off our 400k and 600k.

Rough Going?

The route presents no altitude challenge and only moderate climbing, but ...
a friend who'd ridden the Stampede warned me of the "Texas-sized chipseal." So I contemplated how to soften the ride in ways that didn't involve a feather pillow.

In the end, I settled on larger and more supple tires, plus the Kestrel in place of  my trusty Green De Rosa. The Kestrel has had 1200k experience, after all ... on PBP'99! Its carbon frame soaks up vibrations while not being mushy.
But the white frame can show dirt. :-)

The faithful Kestrel, just back from the Stampede
in its 1200k configuration.

Now that the prep was done, it's just the enforced rest of a day-long drive to Texas, and on with the event!

George Evans and Dan Driscoll firing up the riders at the pre-event orientation.

Much of the discussion in this orientation was whether riders wanted to take the detours around water crossings, or head on through them. There had been considerable rain recently, and cue sheet reflected a lot of effort to construct alternatives should roads be impassable. By contrast, shallow water crossings are a fact of life in central Texas, so riders were going to have to deal with these, as Texas Hell Week veterans will tell you.

In the end, we faced no detours, and the water crossings were no problem. I, however, elected to walk through each of these rather than ride.

- - -

It was my pleasure to have my friend and riding pal Paul Foley on the Stampede. Paul has ridden all three Stampedes, so the fact that he keeps coming back is a testament for sure.

Paul Foley in one of his assorted Rocky Mountain Cycling Club jerseys.
(You can spy the photographer in the background in a more recent RMCC jersey.)
In the previous edition, I'm told most riders were corralled in one giant herd. This year there were one or more smaller herds. I started off the first morning in one with about 18 riders. We headed off into a balmy southwest headwind.

Mid-afternoon, windy and toasty, somewhere in the 90's, we pull into the control at Green's Sausage House in Zabcikville. 

George Evans at Green's Sausage House checking in on us in the heat of the day

This historic building clears up any doubt as how to spell the control town's name, but not how to pronounce it!

Studying the cue sheet before the event, I was not sure how well Green's Sausage House would suit me as a control. But it turns out to be a great establishment, family run, and I'm able to get a sausage kolache which just hits the spot!

All things sausage and sausage related!
The day continued hot and sunny, over a variety of road surfaces, some quite rough. Paul and I managed to reach the final water crossing of the day at dusk, where we could still see it. George had warned to be on the lookout should we reach it after dark.

Marble Falls

After a good evening feed (well, around midnight) at the event motel, and a motel breakfast, we head out in full daylight.

Daylight start of Day 2 from Marble Falls

Shab Memarbashi - rider Hamid Akbarian's wife and volunteer par excellence - documenting our departure
Paul Foley looking stylish
in his Colorado Last Chance 1200 jersey.
A nice choice!

Paul and George at a stop in the Hill Country.
George was just about to show us a radar track of thunderstorms bearing down on us.
This is the Texas Hill Country day, with the biggest climbs, none of them long, but occasionally stiff. We get a warning of the first of these as we round a bend then plunge down to a creek crossing. We follow Jeff Newberry's advice to find our lowest gears for the climb back up. And it works!

Perhaps the most memorable stiff climb - locally termed the "Man-Maker" - gazed at us from across our biggest water crossing. We could see the entire climb up to the next ridge top, looking quite vertical from our perspective. On the climb, we edged past British tandem couple Emma and Jonathan Dixon, who were doing just fine, actually.

Despite the glowering red and yellow radar images of thunderstorms George showed us from his phone, bearing down on us from the northwest, we only get a sprinkle, as we stop for lunch at a Subway shop. That's some timing!

It's been another long day, capped by many zigs and zags on 1½-lane farm-to-market roads in the dark, punctuated by a transit of delightful, victorian Round Top, Texas: white frame buildings in a central square, nicely lighted for our nighttime transit.


I'm actually surprised to be wheeling into Brenham, the overnight control, at 12:20am, rather than an hour later. It has just has seemed to have been a long day. There's tasty catered Mexican food and then it's off to bed.

Day 3 features the more wooded landscape heading into East Texas.

One of the highlights of the entire ride is transiting Sam Houston National Forest, with actual woods, park-like meadows ... and some smooth pavement!

Silky smooth road through Sam Houston National Forest, mixed pine and deciduous woods.
Out of nowhere in the forest appears the volunteer crew, graciously waving us on and ready with food and drink if we need it.

Vickie Tyer, left, and Shab Memar, flanked by rider volunteers in Sam Houston National Forest
Things turn a bit more rustic, and still nice!

Somewhat more rustic road in the forest to Stubblefield Lake

After convenience store roasted chicken in Hunstville, it's onto a busy highway for a segment, then a tranquil, quiet back road as evening approaches.

Secret Control?

Just before Lovelady, a volunteer is waiting with bananas and other treats. At one point this was going to be a secret control, but has turned into just a support point. The volunteer estimates I should get into Crockett about dusk ... which turns out to be exactly right.

We are offered BBQ combo platters - more than ample helpings, even for the voracious randos. Paul and I talk with other riders as they come in, then head for some sleep.


Our final day starts off serenely, with some quick miles at dawn in the cool of the morning.
I see a rider ahead who seems to be gliding along effortlessly. Despite my expeditious pace, he is not getting any closer.

We reach some stronger rollers on country roads, and we eventually make contact: it's Jim Solanick, veteran of 25 1200k's, a great rider, and a nice guy. He never seems to need to get out of that big chainring, even on the stiff rollers.

We ride into Mexia, an oasis of more high-calorie food that we randos crave.

25-time 1200k finisher Jim Solanick in Mexia
The wind has come up leaving Mexia, and so this tree-lined stretch offers a bit of relief.

Quiet smoothly-paved road out of Mexia, 
with wind-sheltering trees - a treat!
A chance to glance along the roadside at the many wildflowers of typical Texas varieties.

Roadside wildflowers ... 
a mere sampling of the many great wildflowers on the route!
After a succession of increasingly exposed and flat windswept miles, I roll into the Dawson control.

The lady behind the counter remarks that most riders have been ordering healthy food, while she rings up my sale for fried burritos (yum!).

Matthew Fitzgerald and his healthy Subway sandwich at the Dawson control.

Horses glance at our passing, but are not particularly impressed.

The Waxahachie town line comes into welcome view, on this wonderfully smooth segment of road, a gracious end to our travels.

The colorful Rando Stampede brevet card will offer a fond memory.

Especially like the Texas longhorn stamp!

Organizer Dan Driscoll arrives with his herd at the finish!

My wife Pat Heller back from her East Texas birding foray
to meet me at the finish.

The Stampede has been a fair amount of fun and variety. The support was excellent, the camaraderie first-rate, and the convenience-store food just hit the spot for 1200km of riding!