20 September 2008 ~ 0 Comments

2008 Last Chance Randonnée (part 1)

Dawn on Day One


All this for just a medal.

Earlier in 2008, I started to ride brevets in earnest as this was my first full summer of road cycling. January through May I traveled to Arizona for Susan Plonsky’s carefully planned 200k, 400k & 600k brevets. Later in the spring, I rode on several rides organized by Lonnie “Epic” Wolff and his Southern Utah RUSA chapter. Those brevets (literally diplomas or tests) qualified me to apply for the grand-daddy of randonneuring–a 1200km (750 mile) randonnée. (Randoneeuring is long-distance unsupported road endurance cycling events. The shorter events, from 200km up to 1000km, are called brevets [pronounced brah-VAY]. The longer, multi-day events are called a randonnées, and are typically 1200km.) In late June, I went to Seattle to ride the Cascade 1200 (actually 1240k) sponsored by the Seattle International Randonneurs. Despite all efforts by the excellent volunteers in the Seattle area, I was not able to finish this randonnée. I made it through day 3 of 4 and after 980 km (610 miles) had to call it quits — major saddle sores. There were only four 1200s in North America in 2008. The only other that would fit my schedule was the Colorado Last Chance (Sept. 10-13th, 2008) sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club. I just couldn’t close out the season without finishing a 12, so I signed up, was put on a wait list, and was shortly accepted in. It is an out and back ride starting near Denver, Colorado, riding east onto the plains of Kansas and then back.

The starting point was the Comfort Inn in Louisville, Colorado which is near Boulder.

I replaced my prior “padded leather” Kobbi seat or saddle with an unpadded Selle An-Atomica per the recommendation of an RBA (regional brevet administrator) whom I trust. It took some fiddling to get the tension dialed in, but I finally got it to where it felt good — about two days before Last Chance! It was especially nice because I had almost NO sit bone issues with this saddle — from the beginning. I had also made some clothing adjustments since Cascade and rode a number of century and double-century (100- or 200-mile rides) rides with the new saddle without major problems. Addtionally, I had been experiementing with the use of aerobars and thought they might be a good addition, especially in light of all the wind we might expect. I felt I was ready!

John Lee Ellis and staff explaining a few items of interest at the start.

Day One (251 miles)
The experts say the most important night for sleep is two evenings before your ride or event begins. Many of us toss and turn the night before and besides, this randonnée started at 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday. Who gets sleep before a 3 a.m. ride? (I actually prefer this early start compared to the Cascade start of 6 o’clock which allows “average Joe” riders like me to get into the first overnight control by dusk). I did sleep well on Monday but as is typical with me, I tossed and turned on Tuesday night. I got to the start point motel with time to spare and dropped off my bags. There were 35 of us going for the 1200k distance and one going for 1000k. Most were on regular bicycles, but there was one recumbant and one tandems. The temperature was cool, yet comfortable, in the low 50’s.

Crossing the state line on day one. Kansas has been very green this year, esp. for this late in the season.

I was a little concerned because there were no controls (stops or mini-marts) for fluids for the first 71 miles. John Lee Ellis, the event organizer, assured me that he had not received complaints before on this section and with the cool temperatures and general downhill attitude I would not need a lot of fluids. We all started off, and as is commonly the case at night, I didn’t draft too closely, but left a little distance between me and other riders. The aerobar is king for solo riding…in the tuck position and in flattish or slighly downhill terrain it just cuts through. We made it to the first control in good time with plenty fluids on board and I picked up some pastries at this stop.

I planned on taking the allowed three nights and four days to make this ride.

We are allowed 90 hours including sleeping and eating or we are DQed (disqualified). I hoped to finish with 6-10 hours to spare. My goal before the ride began was to try to arrive at the motel “overnight” stop before dark and get enough food and rest so I could start out early the following morning somewhat refreshed.
Later that afternoon the winds picked up from the south. We were traveling east, so there was little we could do. I rode with Roberta Trevisan and another guy from Canada until we arrived at St. Francis for lunch. All in all, the day went smoothly and I finally arrived at Atwood, Kansas at about 7:00 p.m. MDT just as the sun was setting. I wolfed down 6 or 8 pieces of pizza and a few cups of Coke (drinking Coke right before going to bed is a, well, a little dumb) and headed off to my room to shower, food & bike prep for tomorrow and try to get some sleep.

Despite how green it was, we saw few bodies of water or rivers along the way. Perhaps it is because this area is ground zero for the Ogallala Aquifer, which is the largest known source of underground water in the world.

Sign entering St. Francis. ”As Good as it Gets" means what?

I was assigned a roommate, John Kramer, a seasoned randoneeur from Washington state. I asked him when he planned on leaving the next morning and he replied “I rarely can sleep more than three hours on these rides, so I’ll probably leave around 11:00 p.m.” He got up at the appointed time and headed out the door. I hadn’t got much sleep up to that point — it was terribly hot, even with the window open–no A/C in this motel. There was a construction crew across the street using a jack hammer til almost 10 o’clock too! (See construction in lower left of sign photo at bottom of page.) After about another hour I also got up and proceeded on my way.
Day Two (219 miles)
I started off alone 12:30 in the morning on highway 36 heading towards the eventual turn-around point at Kensington Kansas.
It has now been two nights since I have slept more than three good hours. Hmmm, how safe is it to be on a bicycle in the middle of the night…alone? I’m basically a morning person, so I felt OK as I headed out into the dark. Later in the morning, at about 5:00 a.m. I rode into Norton and saw the first batch of riders returning from the turnaround point. I stopped at McDonald’s for breakfast and discovered that I had no cash or credit card. Oh, crap! I asked the clerk if I could make a transaction with a credit card number but without the card. She said “no way, McDonald’s policy.” I was starving, having not eaten much since midnight. I went across the street to a mini-mart and asked the clerk if she could accommodate me. She said she would try. I called me wife on my cell (and waking her up of course) requesting her to look up my VISA number. I wrote down and the clerk ran the card. It worked. I ate. Yahoo — minimart nutrition is good! (A few days later I discovered my ID in my street shorts pocket.) -It was very humid and my glasses had a thin layer of dew on them as I proceeded down the road. I pedaled up the grade of a tall RR viaduct and misjudge dthe space on the viaduct metal expansion joint and my wheel got caught in one of the groves. It quickly turned my wheel to the right and launched me towards the guardrail. With my outreached hand I placed it on the concrete guardrail for balance and redirected my bike straight, narrowly avoiding going over the edge. That was exciting — I’m awake now! This was turning out to be a bad morning, but I keep on moving. I had energy as the sun rises.

This is my favorite road sign and the only one I saw along US36. This one was just outside Kensington. Shouldn’t there be one of these EVERYWHERE in Kansas?

I soon gain another rider. It is Vincent, whom I rode with on day one. I explained my money plight and he said that his crew boss, Mels, could accomodate me with more cash as he would be wating at the next control in Kensington, our turnround point– just look for his Nissan truck. I continue riding past Vincent and finally arrive in Kensington. I mail my provided postcard (proof that I made it to the end) to John Lee Ellis and go and find Mels. He graciously loaned me some cash and I ate lunch at the grocery store/deli. I noticed that ever since the viaduct incident that my front tire was making a funny sound and appeared to be underinflated. I inflated the tire to 110 PSI (it was only at 70 or 80 PSI) and a large blister shows. Wow. I deflated it and tried it again — same problem (once again thanks to Mels for the floor pump). I deflated the tire and replaced both the tire and the tube. I tossed the tire. It was brand new, of course. (I had an extra tire with me). Vincent and others arrived and I finally left as they enjoyed their lunch. I spent an hour at that stop borrowing money, eating and reparing. That is lot of time at one stop. I hurried on down the road.
I traveled the return trip to Atwood pretty much alone but I saw other riders now coming towards me as they were pedaling towards Kensignton. It is nice to be ahead of others! I made it back to our Atwood motel exactly the same time as the prior night…6:50 p.m. MDT. Second day goal met. The weather was cooler (it was overcast most of the day) which means I finally got some sleep in the motel (and no construction noise too).

I’m a morning person. That means that I sometimes get tired in the afternoons as I did on the return trip to Atwood at about mile 400. I stopped right off the shoulder of the highway and took a power nap in the lush grass (rattle snakes anyone?).
With all the wind that Kansas is famous for, I only saw agri wind mills but no electric-producing wind turnbines.

Day Three (180 miles)
After a good night’s sleep (i.e. 3-4 hours) I followed my usual schedule of departing at around midnight. The prior night I called my wife on the cell and had her look up the NOAA online forecast. 80% chance of rain. This is VERY unsual for a Colorado or Western Kansas September. I prepared accordingly and brought a little extra clothing including some full-fingered neoprene gloves. At St. Francis (mile 512) it began to sprinkle. I waited in a public covered rest area, hoping it would stop. It didn’t, so I headed out into the dark and wet night. It was about 3 a.m. and my next stop was 28 miles with nothing in-between. Throughout the day it rained, fequently with blowing wind. I did have a bit of a tail wind coming into Cope where I was greeted by by one of favorite volunteers — ERIC! His wife is a trained chef so he always had great goodies to eat. This time he had both pasta salad and a delicious soup called which he called Italian Wedding Soup. I had a serving of each and kept on moving.

At the last stop there were four Canadian riders (or three Canadians and one US) that gained me. Some of them were a little ill prepared and were using garbage bags for rain protection. I was thankful for my fully seam-taped REI shell and lightweight but effective Rainlegs. They kept me warm and dry as the temps were in the low 50s. I wanted to stay ahead of them so I quickly left before they arrived. I took a ZipLoc bag of the pasta salad with me as it would be 52 miles before I would see any services. The wind changed and I was faced with rollies AND a headwind. I was really struggling, wishing I was with a paceline or group of riders so we could each take a turn in front battling the wind. Finally, the four riders started to pass me, one by one. I was exhausted and stopped to eat the pasta. Rejuvinated, I continuted on to my final stop of the day in Byers, once again passing through Last Chance, Colorado. I arrived at Byers at 3:15 p.m. in the afternoon just behind the four riders that passed me earlier. Three of those guys stopped at Byers for supper and then just kept going without sleep. One of them was trying to qualify for RAAM (Race Across America) and needed a quick finish time. Not for me. I’m an eight-hour a night guy (when possible). I checked into my room and proceeded to get some some decent beauty sleep.

Full rain gear which makes me look fat. Note the homemade plastic bag toe covers — courtesy Idalia Grocery store.

Mile 525 at about 4:30 a.m in the rain.

Day Four (103 miles)
The nicest thing about this ride is that the worst is NOT saved for the last. With only 103 miles to finish and over 15 hours to do it (9 p.m. is the 90-hour cut off), this makes the last day of the ride a breeze. I actually got four hours sleep and was set to go at about 1:30 a.m. but hestitated because my primarly light was acting funny due to all the rain. I waited until another rider was ready and proceeded to go with him (Robert Sauve of Lakewood Colo.) at 3:20 a.m. We rode together until the sun came up (it was VERY cold — perhaps in the low 40s). The forecasted high was for 70s and 80s in Denver so I knew it would warm up, which it quickly did. He stopped for breakfast at a cafe and I wanted to move on. I continued on alone, weaving my way through the maze of farm roads outside the metro area and finally arrived at John Lee’s home at about 1 p.m. in the afternoon.

The rollies and head wind on the afternoon of day three that nearly killed me (east of Byers, Colo. near Last Chance).

Wow, my first 1200 finished with and NO saddle sore issues! My quads felt pretty hammered, but that was to be expected after 750 miles of cycling. My neck was OK for the first three days of the ride (I had been doing some excercises) but for some reason it only hurt on day four (this is always a concern with using aerobars for distance riding). My bike computer showed that my total elapsed time (including sleeping and stopping) was 82 hours and 37 minutes. It also indicated that my actual cycling time was 50 hours and 19 minutes with an average speed of only 15.38 MPH — pretty slow, but then I did nearly all of it solo without drafting much (perhaps 50 miles drafted total) and unlike century rides, I was carrying more backup gear and clothing. According to John Lee, the total vertical gain on this ride was 20,000 feet (mostly in up and down rollies). By comparison, the Cascade 1200 had about 40,000 feet and the famed Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) has a reported 30,000 feet. Of the 35 Last Chance riders doing the full 1200k, only 3 DNFed (did not finish). That is a 91% completion rate. 2008 Cascade 1200 had 40 out of 59 completions for a rate of 68%.

Afterwards, my cyclometer read 774 miles, which is more than the 752 miles which most traveled. This is because of a wrong turn or two, plus when I replaced my front tire I neglected to recalibrate my cyclometer for the different brand of tire.
Note all the sand bags holding down this sign — the locals KNOW what kind of wind Kansas gets!

That ride had scorching heat (95-105F for two days) which most certainly took it’s toll.
Many thanks to John Lee Ellis and the volunteers of the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club and other riders for making this possible. My goal is to complete, in the next few years, at least one 1200 per year.
Cheers, and maybe I’ll see you at the California Gold Rush next year.
— Richard Stum. Mount Pleasant, Utah

P.S. Please this brief photo essay of this ride on page two on this site.

Leave a Reply