Monday, July 28, 2008

Survival of the Fattest

Okay, so I'm probably not really the fattest bicyclist blogger (his is a better blog, anyhow), or even the fattest cyclist here (randonneurs ... you know), but it's a good pun.

I finally got back into Kamloops Sunday morning just before 11 am, 84 hours and 48 minutes after I started. Yes, I could have probably gone out with the 84-hour group and not tarried as long at controls and various restaurants. Maybe someday when I do this again, but first everything must heal up, all the achy muscles must recover, and I will need a partial frontal lobotomy to make me forget the past few days. To keep from having to do this ride again following that lobotomy, then, here is a story I like to call ...

Canada. Still North.

Okay, Randowife is the only one that will get that joke, but after this trip I feel very compelled to entertain her. She really is a wonderful woman to have let me go off and do this (and other) foolishness before, and a trip like this also makes me really appreciate and miss her.

Day One

Well, night one to be honest.

We all met and milled about the parking lot in the gathering night at the Kamloops Curling Club, then the organizers gave us short speeches and last-minute instructions and we headed out. I got on with some fast packs to the first control at Clearwater, stopping once at a small convenience store to put on more clothes and refill bottles. Most of the fast packs were of the "No Yammering, More Hammering" variety, so I don't know who I was riding with. Later I joined up with Doug Latornel and Susan Allen, both from Canada.

En route, we had to get out of Kamloops on a pretty busy highway. Vehicles, mostly trucks, zipped past us at a good clip. The wanted us on the shoulder, where we obviously belonged, since we were second-class citizens and not "real" vehicles (this is sarcasm, by the way, since Canadian laws give bicycles the same rights to the roads as cars, just as in the USA). But the shoulder had lots of crap, with harsh rumble strips to the right of the reflective paint, so that you had maybe a meter of pavement ... when you were lucky. I finally decided to screw the trucks and moved into the lane, usually getting back onto the shoulder when I saw one approaching in my mirror. This stretch is probably what began to wear out my shoulders, however, as it was very tense riding in the dark.

Day Two

Part of day two is really above, since I got into the first control just before 3 am. From there, I ended up mostly going solo to the Blue River control, joining in with various groups that would break up and reform later.

About 10 km from this control we had our first long climb. The sun had come up and it was pretty chilly, so the climb felt good. I was not sleepy, either, since I had managed to sleep most of Wednesday before we started.

Halfway down from the long climb, I had a weird flat on the back tire when I hit a rock that somehow got caught by the valve stem and sheered off the top. I had it changed within 15 minutes and was soon to the control before 8 am.

There was a restaurant there, but the small dining room was very crowded and had one waitress, who did not apparently care for all of these extra customers. I went down half a kilometer to the next restaurant, which had only one other customer and happy waitress. I quickly had three excellent pancakes and some sausages, with the first "real" (i.e., not a decaf) coffee in a month. Sated, I then rolled on.

From there it was again a solo trek to Valemount. By then, the day had warmed up. It was still much cooler than a hot Tennessee day, must less a warm Florida day, but I was sweating somewhat in my thin Ibex wool jersey. The Canadians were really suffering, and I saw a few folks at the control wearing tube socks stuffed with ice. After a quick lunch at the control (and a blog entry), I rolled on.

The terrain had definitely gotten hilly by here, with fast mountain rivers and huge snow-capped peaks. I had slowed down and was taking pictures of everything, thinking of how much I wanted to share this view with the Randowife and the Randodaughter. Although the air was warm, when I rode near water the temperature dropped about 10 degrees (farenheit), so this was not a good place to stop and swim.

About 3 pm I started to climb Mount Robson, which was very impressive. You basically come around a corner in the road and see probably the biggest rock you've ever seen, with snow caked on top. The climb was long but gradual, and at the top I stopped for ice cream and a root beer. I then climbed some more before beginning a descent to a beautiful lake. I waded into the cool water in my biking sandals and wool socks, and it felt good. I considered wading in knee-deep and staying there for a while, as my knees were hurting from the heavy climbing, but rolled on instead.

I managed to get to the Jasper control before night fell, quickly checking in and eating some extraordinary shepherd's pie. I then grabbed my bag and went to the Athabasca Hotel, where I had a room. The hotel was very nice, and Jasper looked really cool. It's obviously a vacation spot, and people were doing late souvenir shopping and getting after-dinner ice cream. The pub at the hotel was really hopping, and I wish that I could have stuck around and had fun. But that's not what randonneuring is about.

After stashing my bike in the storage room at the hotel, I took my bags to my room, quickly showered, laid out the next day's gear and clothes, and called the Randowife and Randodaughter. Talking to them made me feel good, as did the small chemical ice pack I put on my right knee, and I put on my sleep mask and ear plugs to quell the slight background noise of the vacationers in the street, and slept.

Day Three

Although I had set the alarm for 1:30 am, it did not go off. Fortunately, I woke myself up after a REM cycle at 1:50, and was back at the control by 2:30 eating a quick breakfast. Although Jasper itself was warm, they warned me to expect chillier temps as I headed on towards Beauty Creek, so I bundled up and headed out about 3 am.

At this point I was only an hour and a half ahead of the close of the Jasper control, so I had to keep moving well in this stretch. But I almost immediately started to climb in the dark mountains, and the cold sapped my energy. Although I couldn't see them, I got the feeling I was riding through some beautiful mountains, and as the sun came up I began to see what I had been missing. Craggy ice-clad mountains surrounded me as I spun up the mostly empty road. The knees were feeling okay today, but the saddle region was getting painful and it was a balancing act to keep everything on my body happy ... well, perhaps "functional" is the more appropriate word.

I was only one kilometer from the Beauty Creek control when I came upon an alpine lake, with craggy mountains behind and a lush green hillside beside it. All of this, framed by the pure blue sky, was perfectly reflected in the cold water. It was a classic picture that we've all seen before, but to see something like this for real was inspirational.

When I finally got to the Beauty Creek control about 8 am it was warm inside (it had been just above freezing that morning) and full of happy randonneurs and cheerful volunteers. I had two plates of pancakes and lots of coffee before I headed out with a couple of other riders. Unfortunately, all of our paces were different after 500 kilometers of riding, and I was soon alone again (naturally).

The stretch to Lake Louise was long, with the harshest climbs of the route. Along the way, we went past an incredible ice field, had some rollicky downhills, and worked very hard. The road was much busier, and the shoulder had regular jarring joints designed to ease the destructive impact of the expansion of the road during winter. Between the climbs and the harsh shoulder, not to mention the tension in my shoulders from getting regularly crowded by huge trucks and RVs, it was getting hard to balance the needs of my knees, saddle interface, and neck muscles.

One of the climbs here was Sunwapta Pass, which had some steep sections but was, on the whole, manageable. Beyond this I stopped for lunch just before the ice fields, having some excellent chilli and a piece of pie. I also waited out the more hot portion of the early afternoon here, staying at the restaurant for a full hour before finally moving on.

The next pass was Robson, and although none of the other ride reports touted it as much as Sunwapta, I found it the more difficult of the two. It was very long, with stretches of a kilometer or two at four degrees or so, before going back to even longer stretches of six or eight degrees.

By the time I got to the top of Robson Pass, I had less than half a bottle of water left. This made me nervous, and I started to look for any kind of store or other source as I began to hammer the 40-kilometer stretch into Lake Louise. Nothing appeared, however, and I drank the last of my water. Then I crossed another rushing alpine stream, with another rocky waterfall. Reasoning that I was in a state park that nobody should be polluting, I went ahead and filled a bottle from the stream, then immediately downed half of the cold water. I figured if it was going to make me sick, hopefully I could get to Lake Louise before then.

Fortunately, the water had no ill effect, and I was soon at the control about 4 pm. One of the volunteers there mentioned that she drank stream water from the area all the time, so I felt better. I drank half a dozen glasses of lemonade there, ate a brownie, filled my bottles with water, and moved on.

From Lake Louise I did a time trial pace out a very nice road to the Castle Junction control, covering the 27 kilometers in about 45 minutes. There the volunteers filled my bottles and gave me some excellent watermelon, then I went into the store and grabbed an ice cream and diet coke before retracing the road back towards Lake Louise. Along the way I met up with Doug and Susan again, but I was in too much of a hurry to ride with anyone for long and left them after a few kilometers.

Again it took me 45 minutes to cover the excellent road, after which I turned onto Hwy 1, the Trans Canada Highway. This was not an excellent road, at least for anyone on a bicycle. This stretch of the road was, basically, the Canadian version of an interstate highway, with fast semis, a horrendous shoulder strewn with rocks, holes, expansion joints, shredded remnants of retreads, and broken glass. It quickly wore me down, and I was again moving at a snails pace in spite of the primarily flat terrain.

I don’t know if it was moving west or night falling, but the road got better after we left Alberta province and returned to British Columbia. The shoulder was definitely smoother, and I was now working with some other riders again, including Doug and Susan. We enjoyed a long very fast downhill just before dark, although again I had trucks passing within two feet of me. Doing this at 60 kph is a little scary.

Just after dark, Doug and Susan pulled off into a town, and the other two riders and I broke up within an hour of that. About 10 pm another rider came up to me, and we did the hairiest stretch of the road into Golden together. This part of the highway had some new sections, with very fast descents, before coming upon some very steep portions with a three-foot shoulder bordered by rumble strips and a concrete embankment. Trucks were again grumping past us, giving us nothing but exhaust.

Finally, past this stretch we had a long descent to the road into Golden, before turning on the road to Golden itself and another excellent downhill. We were soon at the control, getting there about 11:30. I quickly ate, grabbed my drop bag, showered, and lay down in the gym to sleep.

But I couldn’t sleep. For one thing, my muscles were twitching, unaccustomed to not pedaling a bike, and my knees hurt. Second, we were sleeping on wrestling mats, which definitely ain’t no Posturepedic. I would have slept on my back, and probably slept better, but that would have gotten me snoring and there were enough people snoring in that room already.

Day Four

I had planned to sleep until 3 am and ride on from there to my hotel at the top of Roger’s Pass, but I finally gave up about 2 am. I changed into cycling clothes, restocked the bike, and was heading out of Golden back onto Hwy 1. On the way I went by a number of hotels with “Vacancy” signs, and was very tempted to stop again and wait for daylight. But I had a plan, and the plan was to sleep at the top of Roger’s Pass. Idiot.

Soon I was back to my snail’s pace, climbing the no-name pass before Roger’s Pass. I had pulled out my iPod and was listening to some tunes, watching the sun come up and hoping it would soon warm up. Once over that pass there were some slight downhills, which again gave me some breaks from the saddle. The knees were hurting again, and my shoulders were screaming. When I finally got to the start of Roger’s Pass, it was hard work maintaining even 8-9 kph. At one point, I even got off and walked the bike. It frankly felt good to use different sets of muscles and feel something other than pedals under my feet.

But walking wouldn’t get me there to my bed, so I was soon back in the saddle and hammering as best I could up the road. Nearing the top we passed through a set of tunnels designed to keep the road clear from avalanches, and the trucks passing us here were truly deafening. At this point, though, I could smell the barn and moved as fast as I could.

About 8 am I finally got to the Best Western at the top of the pass, and I quickly checked into my room. The desk clerk was fairly surprised when I showed up, but she found my reservation and told me that she would push check out to noon instead of the standard 11 am.

In the room, I showered and got into bed, but again could not get sleep decently. Everything hurt, including my lips which were now either chapped or sun burnt. After three hours, I rose, applied lots of embrocations to my nether regions, put on sunscreen, dressed, and checked out. The dining room was not yet open, so I went to the convenience store and had a coke and a bag of chips, then filled my bottles and started down hill.

I was now down to just over 300k, but I was tired. For most of the way down, I coasted, spinning in the slight flats when I had to, but mostly staying under 20 kph. It was hot when I got to the bottom, slightly cooler in the shade or when I went over a stream. At one point a slight shower came up – fortunately just enough rain to mist me without soaking my shorts. It took me three and half hours to cover the 60 kilometers to Revelstoke.

After getting a quick snack and refilling my bottles there, I moved on towards Enderby. The road was now hot, and I was glad to be wearing spandex today instead of wool. At Three-Valley Gap I stopped at the resort and got another ice cream and root beer, then sat for a few minutes to let the day cool. I actually dozed off, sitting there looking out the window, before I finally got going.

The road was flatter now and it was almost comfortably cool when the road went into the shade, so I moved quickly again along this stretch. When I turned off Hwy 1, I stopped at a Subway for dinner and met up with Bob Olsen. We then rode the rest of the way to the Enderby Drill Hall together, chatting and enjoying the view of the lovely lakes in the area as darkness settled.

I had apparently dropped my reflective sash and one reflective ankle wrap back on Hwy 1, but another rider had found them and was just getting to Enderby when Bob and I came in. This was great, since it was now dark and I was not as visible as I needed to be. The rider was working with a new randonneur who was having difficulty on this stretch. He could have moved on and finished earlier, but he was staying with the younger rider to get him through this rough piece. He was truly a good person, and personified the best part of the randonneuring spirit.

Since I had eaten at Subway, I only needed soup and drink at Enderby before moving on to Salmon Arms. The 25k included one long climb, but it was dark and this stretch passed quickly. I got a little lost finding the control, circling the wrong block twice before going up the right street, then rethinking the road and coming about again. After 15 minutes of this, a car pulled up next to me that contained some of the BC Randonneuring volunteers, and they directed me to the right road. I must admit that at this point I was tired and aggravated, but I really appreciated their help.

Day Five

Salmon Arms had a slew of bicycles out front, with a number of riders apparently asleep inside. I was tired, but knew that I needed to move on, so I just topped off my bottles and headed out. Again, leaving town I passed a number of motels with that alluring word – Vacancy. But I had a plan, and that plan was to finish the ride before much of the morning had passed and the wind came up going into Kamloops.

I quickly passed out of Salmon Arms, with a short scary moment when I began to doubt that I was really on Hwy 1. I should have realized that was sleep deprivation talking, but I instead found a dependable street sign and was soon out into the country.

Since I was again on my own during these last two stretches, I had changed from music on the iPod to a book on tape – “Flush” by Carl Hiassen. It helped keep me more awake as I moved down the road, primarily staying off the shoulder because of the light traffic. But about 10k out from Salmon Arms I began weaving and was afraid that I would fall asleep on the bike. I soon came to a development with a big sales office, so I pulled over and slept on top of the rock wall next to the parking lot for about an hour. It was not good sleep, since I kept waking up thinking that a bear was coming for me, but it cleared my head for a while.

When I saw Bob Olsen going by on Hwy 1 I decided that I had gotten enough “sleep” on my rock wall. I quickly got on some warmer clothes, since it was now chilly, and caught up with him a few kilometers down the road. He was going to try the “two pairs of shorts” solution to saddle discomfort – he gave it a big thumbs up, by the way – and we were soon heading down the road again. Another rider caught up to us about sunrise, and we hoped it would soon warm up.

Usually the sun wakes me up, but this time it was not doing the trick. After another 10k we came upon another small town with a hotel, and I decided that enough was enough. I told the other guys to go on without me and checked in for a few minutes. The lady at the desk gave me a room that was under repair, so the bed was not made up, but she gave me towels and stuff for a shower and told me to sleep as late as I needed to. I quickly showered and climbed into bed.

Three hours later I got up, put on sunscreen and my dirty bike clothes again, and started down the road. I stopped at a convenience store for a breakfast of strawberry coconut Twinkies and Gatorade, then put my head down into the wind and cranked the pedals. Everything hurt, but I had less than 75K to the end, so I took it back up to the 25 kph average I had maintained on the first day. “Flush” ended, so I started a Harry Potter book. Small towns zipped past, and finally the “Welcome to Kamloops” sign. I could see the big bluff that overlooks the river, and then the city itself, and finally my turn. Moving on pure adrenaline, I bore right, then right again, then left, and finally returned to the curling club.

A 1200k was something I needed to do just to prove that I could, but most of the pleasure was in the “being done” of it rather than the actual doing of it. There were too many times when I would have gladly stopped for another day or so in one of the towns, or would have preferred to ride the roads during daylight so I could really see the scenery – or at least be warmer. Some of those times I looked at the bracelet I was wearing – a “Livestrong” type of thing that was for a friend of ours from Tampa who had died at 12 after years of cancer and complications. The bracelet says “Josh – But I Get Up Again,” and I thought that if Josh could be as cool as he always was while putting up with all of the stuff that he had to put up with most of his life, I could handle a few minor discomforts.

Other times I remembered something another randonneur said: If it’ll heal in two weeks or less, ignore it. Everything may not be 100% in two weeks – I’ve still got some numbness in my right hand from the 600K in early May – but it should be functional. And then, much of the time, I just thought about how I wanted to make the Randowife and Randodaughter proud of me, and didn’t want all of the people back home to look at the results page on the ride web site and see “DNF” by my name – especially if I was just going to DNF for something like a little pain and sleepiness.

Would I do this again? No. I had been told that this was a great route, but a great route is a combination of scenery and roads. The scenery is spectacular, and some of the roads are great, but some of the roads are entirely untenable for cyclists. Too many Canadian truckers and RV drivers are just as bad as their American counterparts – they pass you closely regardless of your speed or the surface and it would be far too easy to get sucked under the wheels of that big thing and then, bingo, it’s over. When somebody goes out and paves the shoulder as clean as the road, gets the rumble strips off, and keeps all of the crap off … well, then we’ll see.


  1. Excellent write up!

    ancien (ahn see yi'n) - A veteran. Originally a male Paris-Brest-Paris finisher, this term has now come to describe a randonneur who has successfully finished some other 1200-kilometer randonnée.

    Sleep deprivation is an annoying anchor on one's will and attitude. I might guess it is one of the strongest factors why randonneurs declare no desire to repeat their adventure in the first weeks after their success. One's spirit for adventure and challenge may take longer to recover than bodily wear and tear.


  2. Congratulations on a great ride! I enjoyed following your progress, reading your report, and your post-ride analysis. I live near a busy highway with rumble strips, and I am constantly having to decide whether to ride on the nasty shoulder or take my chances with the cars. Facing that on a 1200K would be a real challenge!

    - David