25 October 2015 ~ 3 Comments

Super 600 — My Toughest Two Days on a Bike

Introduction

Within the past year or so, the randonneuring world was introduced to a new type of event. It is called a Super Randonneur 600 Permanent, or just a Super 600, as it if most often referred to. SR600’s are permanents, and not a “brevet” which is a scheduled ride. Permanents can be done any time. A Super 600 must be between 600 and 619 km (375 miles) with at least 10,000 meters of cumulative vertical gain (32,808 ft). During the summer of 2015 I beginning designing a Super 600 here in Utah. With our many ski resorts nearby Salt Lake City, we have plenty of canyons and mountain passes. With a lot of help from fellow randonneur (Kenneth Samuel, from the Salt Lake area), I came up with this design. The route is officially called the Wasatch Range SR600. It starts in Cottonwood Heights (Salt Lake valley), overnights at my house in Mount Pleasant, and then works it’s way back north to the start.

Day One — 214 miles, Four Major Mountain Passes for a total of 18,600′ of Climbing

At a little after 4 a.m. on September 11th, 2015, Kenneth and I set out to slay this beast. He is much younger than I (I’m 61), so he had to exercise a little patience on the climbs as I could not keep up with him. We started up Big Cottonwood Canyon in the dark, and with little traffic in the canyon, made our way to the top of Guardsman Pass right at dawn. The temperature was nice at the start, around 55F and quickly cooled as we climbed up in elevation. From the top of Guardsman Pass, we dropped down one of the steepest (and roughest…my tail light rattled off) paved roads in Utah, toward Midway.

We then headed up towards the small town of Francis, just south of Kamas and made our first c-store stop, topping off our bottles and stomachs. From there we headed up and over Wolf Creek Pass. The top of the pass has some campgrounds and we were hoping for water, but since it was after Labor Day, they had already turned off the spigots. We had some reserves and continued down the other side. Eventually, in the small town of Hanna, we found a cafe that was open and stopped in to rehydrate. From there we continued the gradual descent into the town of Duchense and immediately found the local Subway. After Duchense there were no open services until our overnight stop at my house, which was about 100 miles. In Duchense, I ordered a 12-inch sub and only ate half of it, taking the half in my seat bag for consumption later. There was one c-store at about 70 miles after Duchense which reportedly had a water spigot outside their building. Consequently, I brought some Potable Aqua iodine tablets to purify water along this section. Kenneth, on the other hand, choose to purchase extra water bottles and stuff them in his jersey pockets. Before the ride, I carefully examined the route using satellite view and find some possible water sources near the road. I stopped several times on the descent of Indian Creek Pass trying to find the ideal spot, which I finally did, near the bottom of the descent. I refilled two of my bottles (I brought a screen strainer too) and added a few tabs in each and proceeding along. It was now late afternoon of the our first day.

After Indian Creek Pass, we made our way onto busy U.S.-6, but only for a few miles and then started the climb up and around Scofield Reservoir. On the south end of the lake was a sole c-store which was closed (but we new that in advance). It was about 10 p.m. As it turns out, there was a water spigot as promised by the store owner and we both topped off our bottles. We had one more climb ahead of us before the our overnight stop. The temperature was about 48F at Scofield, but it felt a lot colder, due to fatigue. I had already put on my wind jacket. I had arm warmers and a vest underneath. Kenneth only brought a vest and arm warmers, so on the upcoming descents later than night, he was really suffering, due to the cooler temperatures. My GPS registered a low temperature of 36F along the top of Eccles Canyon / Skyline Drive, which we rode through at about midnight. It felt good to be climbing as the descents were so dang cold. We made our way up and finally down Fairview Canyon (top of Skyline Drive), one that I am familiar with, yet Kenneth, who did not know this canyon, but yet with his fat and stable 42mm-wide tires did not hesitate on the descents. He really bombed them. But he  waited for me at the bottom of each! His Strava upload showed a maximum speed of 48.5 MPH during our event. We finally made our way to my house, arriving at about 12:30 a.m. My wife had prepared a pasta casserole dish which I consumed. Kenneth’s stomach was not cooperating, so he ate little until the next morning, where he was finally able to take in more calories.

Day Two — 166 Miles, Three Major, and One Minor Mountain Pass for a total of 16,000′ of Climbing

We got about 4.5 hours of sleep and started day two at about 7:00 a.m. At my home, I had an extra cycling jacket which I loaned Kenneth, which he used during the night portions of this final day. From Mount Pleasant, there are about 30+ miles of rollers to the base of the Nebo Loop. We started our climb up the south side of this mountain (the steepest side of this road with grades hitting 15% for short sections) and it was beginning to heat up, but as we gained elevation it almost cancelled out the heat, so this ascent wasn’t too bad. After descending Nebo loop (which has three or four false summits), it dropped us into Utah County and things were really hot now (85F?)…but frankly, it felt good, after the prior night’s cold suffer-fest.

We stopped at a local hamburger shop in Spanish Fork and had a long sit-down lunch. We then rode across the valley towards Provo Canyon, did a short out and back part way up the Squaw Peak overlook road, before finally heading up the Alpine Loop road. I have done this loop from the other direction, but not from this side, so it was enjoyable to riding new terrain. It goes past Sundance ski resort and travels by Mount Timpanogos, a peak which I frequently ski-climb. By now, it was late in the afternoon, so most of this climb was in the shade — perfect conditions for a long ascent. By now, my lower back was giving me fits on the steepest grades. At the “less steep” grades of 5–8% my back was fine as I could turn the pedals just a little quicker. Before this trip, I upgraded my cassette from 12-30 to a 12-32 (my crankset is 50-33). That was simply not enough. I should have gone with a 12-36, but didn’t want to change out derailleurs. Live and learn. Kenneth, on the other hand, had much lower gearing and didn’t have any such issues. I managed to get through this climb without getting off the bike, except perhaps once, at a water break.

After the Alpine Loop climb and descent, we stopped at a c-store and replaced some much-needed calories. The sun was now setting, so we donned our reflective gear and heading up the short Traverse Mountain climb. On the other side of this climb, shortly after starting the descent, great views of the lights of the Salt Lake valley came into view. I stopped a few times to grab some photos. Kenneth, quickly descended, but patiently waited at the next turn, as he was familiar with this part of the route—I was not. We were now in Draper, a suburb in S.E. Salt Lake and had a “mere” 34 miles left. But we also had one of the roughest climbs left—Little Cottonwood Canyon, which topped out some 4,200 feet above. There were no services until the finish—I was worried about not having enough water and topped off one of my three bottles from a sprinkler that was running in someones yard (I ended up not needed it, as it was rather cool, once we entered the canyon). The actual canyon is eight miles long and has a consistent grade of 7 to 9% with some sections at 12-13% (my GPS light was off to save battery life, so don’t know what it actually read), but no flat sections giving one break. The bottom is steeper but near the top it backs off a little. At this point, despite takings a lot of ibuprofen, my lower back was really killing me. I was only moving at 4–5 MPH in parts. The only fix was to dismount and stretch. Afterwards, I could ride pain free for a few minutes before it started up again. I stopped perhaps six or eight times, but did finally catch up to Kenneth, who had paused earlier to add some more layers. We were now at some of the buildings of Alta Ski Resort (one of the few resorts in Utah that disallows snow boarders…so yes, this IS a true “ski” resort). I was getting cold, due to a light breeze and the higher elevation, so we stopped in a vestibule entrance of Alta, out of the wind, where I put on additional layers. From there it was just a few more minutes climbing to the upper parking lot of Alta, our final control. WE MADE IT. FINALLY! No more climbing.

The rest was all downhill and back to our 24-hour c-store. We arrived there a little after 2:30 in the morning for a total time of 45:36. 50 hours is the time cut off, so that was never a concern for us, but then we managed to pick a weekend with flawless weather (cool, but not freezing nights, fairly hot days; little wind; no precipitation in the forecast) and neither of us had any major mechanical problems.

Summary

Would I do another Super 600? Only if I get some lower gearing and the weather conditions are “just right” as it was for us. Having a partner that is fast enough to make the climbs at a decent pace, but willing to chill a little while waiting for me is helpful. In hindsight, I’m sure Ken would have brought more clothing. The forecasted low was about 45-50F at elevation, but for some reason the Eccles Canyon/Skyline Drive was cooler than that, dropping to 36F.

On our second climb on day one, Wolf Creek Pass, it had very little traffic and so we frequently rode side-by-side up this section. I explained to Ken that I was deliberately holding back on my speed up this gradual climb, as I wanted to keep an eye on my hear rate (which is displayed on my Sigma ROX 10 GPS, which is mounted on my handlebars). I was trying to keep it around 70–75% of my maximum, so as it not “burn any matches” before the last day. Typically, on shorter events, I try to climb with my heart rate between 80–85%, sometimes hitting the low 90s. When cruising the flats or gentle rollers, it usually runs at about 70–75%. On our last climb of this ride, I was lucky to get it up to 70%, as it was hovering about 60-65% of my maximum.

Miscellaneous Specs

Passes, in order of appearance. With the maximum elevation and elevation gain for each pass.

  1. Guardsman Pass (top of Big Cottonwood Canyon) 9,791′ (2984 m). Gain of 5,277′ (1609 m) from our c-store which was several miles below the mouth of the canyon.
  2. Wolf Creek Pass 9,485′ (2891 m). Gain of 3,259′ (993 m).
  3. Indian Creek Pass 9,068′ (2763 m). Gain of 3,553′ (1083 m).
  4. Eccles Canyon (a.k.a Skyline Drive), 9,413′ (2869 m). Gain of 1,780′ (542 m) for tallest summit, but several other shorter climbs.
  5. Nebo Loop 9,345′ (2848 m). Gain of 3,530′ (1076 m) for tallest summit, but several other shorter summits.
  6. Alpine Loop 8,060′ (2457 m). Gain of 3,557′ (1084 m) with a shorter intermediate climb thrown in to bring the total climbing up to the mandatory 10,000 m.
  7. Traverse Mountain 6,135′ (1869 m). Gain of 1,336′ (407 m).
  8. Little Cottonwood Canyon (i.e. Alta ski resort at the top of this dead-end canyon) 8,724′ (2659 m). Gain of 4,200′ (1280 m) from Draper. From the mouth of the actual canyon it is “only” 3,333′ (1016 m).

The “gain” spec is the amount of continuous climbing from the base of each climb.

It is possible, that this is one of most difficult SR600s worldwide, due to the fact that it has five passes over 9,000 feet and two over 8,000 feet. This may have the highest “average” mean elevation of any SR600. If you take an average of the seven passes over 2000 m, it is 2781 m (9,124 feet). Because of this, randonneurs traveling from regions at lower elevation would be well advised to acclimate a week or so prior to attempted this route.

Gear I used: 60cm Rocky Mountain Prestige all carbon road bike with a mechanical 10-speed 50-33 crankset (the 33 is a special chainring which uses the standard 110 BCD; made in Italy by PMP) and SRAM PG-1070 12-32 MTB cassette. Rim brakes. DT Swiss alloy 1450 rims with Continental 4000 S II 25mm tires. Prologo Scratch Pro (143mm wide). No aerobars. Sigma ROX 10 GPS with chest-strap heart rate monitor. eoGEAR 6.6 Roll-top bag with add-on 2.5 pouch, mounting using a prototype lightweight dual bracket. Pearl Izumi MTB carbon fiber shoes (X-Project 2.0) with SPD cleats & Shimano A520 touring clipless pedals.

Links

Kenneth’s Blog Report

Official “Permanent” page with Specs on this Route

My Strava Upload

Ride with GPS Link

Openrunner Link

Listing of Super 600s Worldwide

Listing of Super 600 Results Worldwide

 

3 Responses to “Super 600 — My Toughest Two Days on a Bike”

  1. Lisa 27 October 2015 at 6:52 am Permalink

    I have high respect for those who do (and enjoy at that) Super 600 rides. And to do it at your age, that’s just inspiring!

  2. Bryce 9 November 2015 at 1:44 pm Permalink

    Awesome! I will do this one day… One day…

  3. Rando Richard 9 November 2015 at 5:36 pm Permalink

    This past week I read that Bicycling Magazine (or one of their advertisers) is offering recognition for climbing 8,848 m (equal to Mt. Everest) during one event, with NO sleep. I wonder if I could survive doing a Super 600 sleepless.