Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Just North of the Border AZ 400k Brevet

JUST NORTH of THE BORDER 400 km Brevet
Tucson, AZ, March 2020

by Paul Foley and Pascal Ledru

After our fastest ever 400km around Phoenix (Pascal to make sure to get his qualifier in for PBP and Paul to get his double series) last year, we thought another early trip to Arizona to get some miles in would be a good idea. And this time, after an easy recruitment speech, John M, Mike and Jason decided to join us.

While "Around the Bend" was a flat course south of Phoenix with about 2,600 feet of climbing, "Just North of the Border" is a more hilly and more windy (but also more scenic) course with about 11,000 feet of climbing south of Tucson.

Meeting at 5:30 at a Starbucks in Tucson, time to introduce ourselves to some of the other riders such as Ann and John Jurczynski who are riding a Seven tandem with a carbon belt and are targeting the Trans Am this year. We also saw old friends Jen and Steve, with whom we had ridden in the past in both Arizona and PBP.  The ridership included participants from seven different states, and one Canadian.

Mike Sturgill, excellent Arizona RBA, went over the course for both the 200km and the 400km riders; Mike will meet us 4 times through the course with water, bananas and snacks at control points as well as a nice lunch in Tombstone.

Departure at 6:00, exiting Tucson going east, then south, then a small loop through Saguaro National Park. A nice opportunity to see the large saguaro cactus close and personal. The road was a single lane-one-way roller coaster through the park, with appropriate warning signs.

Saguaro National Park East
Rincon Mountains in the background

Mike Turek

We then headed South to Sonoita starting with a long but progressive climb. Team RMCC stays together and Steve Atkins from Phoenix joins us and will stay with us through the remainder of the course; he is not used to our bad jokes yet! In Sonoita, Mike Sturgill meets us for water and snack. At this point the 200km riders turn back and we will be on our own: 5 RMCC riders with Steve Atkins, and intermittently Leif Bjelland from Montana will ride with us on and off.

Bridge in Elgin

Store in Sonoita, with welcome support from RBA

After Sonoita, the ride goes through Arizona wine country, unfortunately no time to stop, much to Pascal’s chagrin.

We then pass Elgin (an info control) and then reach historic Tombstone. We were lucky to not get shot and make it alive while we cross main street as this the home to the famed Gun Fight at the O.K. Corral.   Tombstone advocates itself as "the most authentic western town left in the united states" and it definitely has a Wild West atmosphere.  As the town has daily gun fights, John M wondered why local law enforcement couldn’t put a stop to such behavior.

John Mangin in Tombstone

Allen St.

"The RMCC Posse"

40 miles after Tombstone we reach Mule Pass the highest point of the ride, at just over 6000 ft. The climb gradually steepened on the way up, which splintered the group.  We regrouped at the pass, and from there a long downhill to Bisbee where we stop at the High Desert Market and Cafe for pizza (Mike and Pascal) and snacks (everybody else).

Traversing Bisbee, we pass the Lavender Pit, which is a former open pit copper mine, before we go down Erie Street which seems to have been frozen in the 1950s: rusting and fully renovated cars and trucks, old gas station and a "biker patrol" cruiser. Time for a couple of pictures.

After Bisbee, we head south then west and actually ride "Just North of the Border" for 20 miles, where we see occasional Border Patrol Agents on the lookout.  Unfortunately strong head winds and a deceptively difficult climb took its toll, raising fears of possible deportation back to our wintery climes

We then finally head north to the next control, aided by the wind and a gentle descent in Sierra Vista. We all stop at McDonald’s, except for John who is still psychologically traumatized by a bad experience as a teenager requiring him to pick up a sandwich at the Circle-K instead. He still then reluctantly joins us to eat his sandwich with us. The sun has set now, and the temperatures are dropping.

From Sierra Vista back to Sonoita; all the stores are closed, but luckily Mike Sturgill waits for us one last time with water and snacks. Ten miles north of Sonoita, we go through a Border control check poin: are you all U.S citizens: "oui, oui", they let us pass.

Finally, at the 210 mile point of the course, the downhill back to Tucson begins, we reach the outskirts of the city, pass by a couple of B-52 Stratofortress at the very nice Pima Air & Space Museum. The road becomes pretty bumpy as we enter the city and Mike wishes he had taken his Ypsan randonneur bike instead of a carbon bike.

Victory dinner at In-And-Out right before 1:00AM wraps a very enjoyable experience, and a near nineteen-hour brevet.

It seems an early 400km in Arizona in March is going to become a tradition. From 2 RMCC riders in 2019 to 5 in 2020, this is a 150% rise. Will we see the same progression or even a bigger one in 2021? And a huge thank you to Mike Sturgill for organizing and superbly supporting, this ride.

Grace Turek celebrated our success !

Finish at the In-n-Out Burger in Tucson
Paul, John, Jason Turner, Leif, Pascal, Mike

♦ ♦ ♦

Friday, March 13, 2020

Grand Randonnée Round-Up for 2020!

It's March ("our snowiest month" in Colorado) and the snow is flying outside - so it's still time to ponder and plan!

A record-matching 8 US 1200k's are scheduled for 2020:

April 30
June 3
Lap of the Lake  NEW 
July 8
July 13
August 2
August 13
Crater Lake  NEW September 2
Cracker SwampNovember 5

Foreign Grand Randonnées - The Randonneurs Mondiaux calendar lists 87 (!) grand randonnées ... including: 
  • 2 in Canada (Ontario and British Columbia)
  • 11 in Australia (including the Great Southern Randonnée)
  • 18 in India (many of them early in the year, and already passed)
  • 5 in Japan
  • 1 in the UK (Land's End to John O'Groats)
  • 4 in Russia
  • 7 in Ukraine
  • 8 in the US, as shown above.
If you are riding a one of these events, some awards for extra motivation:

Finish two US grand randonnées in the same year.

Finish four different US grand randonnées - over any number of years

Finish a US grand randonnée, a populaire, a team event, 200k, 300k, 400k, 600k, and 1000k, and enough extra to add up to 5000 km in 24 months.

Finish PBP, another grand randonnée, a Super Randonnée 600, two Super-Randonneur series (with 1000k's), a Flèche, and other events within six years.

RM Challenge Lepertel  NEW 
A 1200 km or longer event in each of 4 consecutive calendar years.

And now some details on the US grand randonnées ...

Carolina Spring this year will take in the Carolina Piedmont and coastal plain, with some inlet crossings. Tony Goodnight varies the route from year to year. This year has elements like 2014's Carolina Spring.

The Northern Virginia Cloverleaf is four loops emanating from Leesburg, VA and covering VA, WV, PA, and MD. This is Hamid and Shab's first time organizing a 1200k and it promises to be a scenic tour of the Shenandoah Valley, Appalachian foothills, and Virginia coastal plain.

The Lap of the Lake 1200 is a circuit of Lake Ontario, and thus a portion in Ontario, Canada. It is based on the Lap of the Lake 1000k, which Pete Dusel has organized for years. "Please make your plans assuming this is a self supported ride."

The Colorado High Country is most likely still the world's highest grand randonnée, topping out above 10,000 ft. three times.  The climbs are prolonged but fairly gentle.  The scenery is expansive, varying from Continental Divide outcroppings and forests to high sage parks. This year all overnights are in Walden, CO, making logistics easier for most everyone. Day 2 is a loop through Wyoming's Snowy Range. Day 3 is a loop over Rabbit Ears Pass to Gore Pass and back via Willow Creek Pass.

New York - Montréal - New York is "a Long skinny loop, visiting six ranges of the Northeast Appalachians." It starts in the New York City suburbs and turns around near Montréal in Québec.

The Great Lakes Iron Porcupine 1200k tours "the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the far north of Wisconsin.  These are the lands of ancient mountains, the Marquette Iron Range and 'Copper Country.'" A combo of lush scenery and some history. This is a successor to the successful Mac 'n' Cheese 1200k in 2017.

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Crater Lake - "Details coming in June."

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The Cracker Swamp 1200km is a cloverleaf of four loops out of Tavares in Central Florida. Folks who rode the inaugural Cracker Swamp in 2016 liked the event: the simple logistics, great organization, and lots of quiet roads on this late-season 1200k.

Choosing and Riding a Grand Randonnée

My traditional advice ...

While all grand randonnées 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? - Each of these events 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 variations on two themes: 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 based on your ride plan, likely 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. 

Pre-visualize how you'd ride the event you've chosen or are considering, and how the event structure supports 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 event 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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Plenty to whet your appetite and take you to new places in 2020.  So start imagining, planning, ... and training!