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!