After doing a few Randonneur rides starting a few years ago, I heard about the "real" rides of 1200km or longer and decided I wanted to try one. Clearly, a good choice would be the only such ride in Canada, the Rocky Mountain 1200 organized every 4 years by the BC Randonneurs. (Edit 2009: there is now the Granit Anvil in Ontario.)
To shortcut the usual questions: yes my ass hurts, no my penis is not broken and yes some of it (the ride) was pretty hard. I am happy I did it. I do not have immediate plans for another one.
The Rocky Mountain 1200 is the only 1200 in Canada and has been running since 1996, when 8 guys finished it. Now, it runs every four years the year after PBP. This year, there were 101 starters from all over Canada, the US and a few from further afield (UK, Australia, 4 from Japan, Germany).
I can't say enough good things about how well run this event was: the volunteers were great, the food was awesome and everything ran extremely smoothly. Absolutely fantastic job by the organizers and all the volunteers!
Since the longest brevet I'd done before this year was 300km, I needed to do 400 [photos] and 600 [photos] kilometer rides to qualify. These went fairly well, although the 600 was a suffer-fest with lots of headwind (and in the end turned out to hurt more than the 1200 itself).
It is usual for the Alberta guys to organise a "hell week" about 2-3 weeks before a 1200. I ended up organising this year's, in Field. Three of us came out (Dan and Peter). Usually the target is 1000km in 4 days (200km, 300km, 200km, 300km) but we didn't do that. Instead, we had a relatively easy first day of 130-160 km (depending upon participant) then rode the Golden Triangle (clockwise) together in 15.5 hours, then did about 130km both of the last two days. Since we got lots of climbing in (doing Kickinghorse Pass every morning, e.g.), Dan and I felt relatively prepared for the 1200.
I took Dan's advice and got some "power drink" for the 1200 (Cytomax) so that I'd have more calories between controls. I also finally got a trunk bag/rack instead of a giant seat bag and lots of things stuffed into my jersey pockets. I also got some gel inserts for my bars and some padded short-finger gloves, something I've never owned. All these helped a lot.
I am very happy that Esther decided to take the week off also and was able to accompany us (Dan from the Alberta club and I teamed up) around the course as support is allowed at the controls. Except for taking Friday night "off" to go see the Be Good Tanyas at the Folk Fest, she also got to sleep-deprive herself in order to carry some of our crap and help me out with bottles, charging my light and taking stuff in and out of my bag at every control (except from Lake Louise to Golden). This helped immensely. Dan was able to off-load his generator wheel during the day also.
Since we finally had the camper + truck going, I was able to sleep in the camper at Beauty Creek and for some brief naps at other controls.
Kurt and Natasha both insisted I try wearing two pairs of shorts. Although it was a little hotter during the day, this worked very well and kept my ass feeling great until well into the ride. With the gel bar-inserts and gloves, my hands hurt way less after the 1200 than after the 600 and none of my fingers are numb.
The Ride: Short Version
Executive Summary: first push was to Beauty Creek, 540km in ~27 hours (with a shower stop in Jasper) and 5 hours sleep. Next was to Golden for 1am on Saturday and about 4.5 hours sleep. We then pushed to Salmon Arm for about midnight and took a short nap (30 minutes) while it rained, then made the final 115 kilometers into Kamloops for a ~6:30am finish.
The first "day", we got to Jasper (about 8pm) and showered, then evaluated the situation. The "pros" for continuing to Beauty Creek won out, especially the fact that we'd avoid the coldest part of the night by sleeping, and so we headed out around 10pm in the warm evening light. For some reason, I remembered that section being fairly flat -- and Dan thought it was flat-ish as well, so we were shocked by the amount of climbing (and had the distance too short by about 12km). We finally rolled into Beauty Creek tired and cold, ate delicious ham, eggs and pancakes and got to bed for 5 hours of sleep by about 2:30am (538km total, about 27 hours on the road including the long Jasper stop).
The next "day" we got up at 7:30am, had more food and then got underway, me feeling actually pretty refreshed. We made decent time to Saskatchewan Crossing where Esther would have to leave us to get back for the Folk Fest -- luckily, some other guys (Craig [his photos] and Brian) who were supporting some folks a little behind us (and hence hanging out with Esther) offered to take a bag so we could leave the lights/wool with them until Castle Junction. Grabbing night stuff there, we headed off, having to turn the lights on at about the AB/BC border for a wickedly fun nighttime descent of Kickinghorse Pass and a very enjoyable evening ride into Golden (minus two assholes who wanted to pass me going down the narrow bits of the Golden descent). The Golden control was very well organized also with delicious food and we took nearly 5 hours of sleep there.
The third "day" (Saturday at 0630) we headed off with a couple other guys for Roger's Pass. It was luckily cloudy but not raining, so the sun wasn't as much as an issue as I feared. The last bit of the climb was fueled, for me, by some self-righteous adrenaline rage after getting literally run off the road by a giant RV (or "touron mobile" as Dan calls them). I had fun imagining the various amounts of damage I was going to inflict upon his face and vehicle should he be stupid enough to still be at the top when I arrived. Sadly, he was not. I calmed down, we ate a bit and I took a quick 10-minute nap before tackling the rest of the way to Revelstoke, which is a lot further than I remembered (but lots of downhill, although some headwind).
More great food there and a bit of a rest before heading out towards Enderby. Lights back on in Enderby and a quick trip (25km) to the Salmon Arm control. This section was awesome in the cooler evening, and I felt pretty jazzed at Salmon Arm and wanted to continue. Dan took a little convincing, but a rain shower gave us a 30 minute nap before we headed for the final stretch (123km) into Kamloops in the early morning dark.
This bit dragged on and on and on through Chase, Sorrento and the endless Kamloops suburbs. Luckily Dan had one caffinated Cliff shot left, or I'd probably have fallen asleep, but eventually we made it in at around 6am for an 80 hour 40 miuntes total (3 days, 8 hours, 40 minutes).
The Ride: Long Version
On the Hi-Fi: Since I was riding with Dan, I didn't listen to as much music as I normally might have. When I did, it was mostly Dub and Reggae; of these, I had:
- Easy Dub All Stars: Dub Side of the Moon (2004)
- Bob Marley: Kaya (1978)
- King Dubby: First Dubs (2006, Jammendo download)
- Toots and the Maytals: Funky Kingston (1973)
For climbing, the Punk and Rock was dragged out:
- NoFX: The Decline (1999)
- NoFX: White Trash Two Heebs and a Bean (1992)
- System of a Down: self-titled (1998)
As Esther wanted to know where I'd be on the course when, I tried to predict this and actually came fairly close which is pretty surprising.
We were in the 90-hour group, which started at 10pm Wednesday (probably so the "Fast Guys" aka 84-hour group could start at 4am, 6 hours later). It also meant one whole night of riding out of the way off the bat. Unfortunately as I've never ridden this bit of road, I missed the scenery for the first 130km or so. Esther was volunteering at the Clearwater checkpoint, 124km in, so it was good to see her. The start was really cool: 76 riders (the other 25 were in the 84-hour group) with thousands of dollars worth of lights trucking down the road with a nice tailwind and beautiful temperatures.
Some motorists got fairly excited. One pickup roared to the front of our group and nearly took us out as he swerved into a gravel pull-out at ~80km/h, got out and yelled "what the fuck are you people doing?!". Apparently nobody wanted to stop and explain, as we all kept riding...
Not too long after Clearwater, it started getting light as we made our way to Blue River. This was the only control without a provided meal and so we wasted a bunch of time waiting with all the other folks in the Husky for breakfast served by the lone, frustrated waitress.
We continued on towards Jasper, still with all our night gear (as Esther couldn't leave her control until it closed for the 84 hour group). This bit of road is really nice and scenic, with light traffic and good shoulders. After the first major climb of the trip (Messiter Summit), we saw a black bear just after the descent.
As we arrived in Valemount, it was starting to get really hot and I was glad to ditch some of my warmer clothes and main light with Esther. I met Wim Kok (who sometimes comes down from Peace River to ride the Alberta brevets) at the control, where some BCTV kids were trying (apparently without much luck) to get Randos to stop long enough for an interview. Good sandwiches, soup and snacks plus some more batteries and sunscreen and we were off again, heading for Tete Juan Cache and the turn eastbound towards Jasper (and a decent climb up to Mount Robson park).
We stopped at Mount Robson for some lying-in-the-grass, water and snacks. The first of the 84-hour (aka "Fast Guys") caught us here, making up their six hour deficit in just over 300km (!!!).
This road I've definitely been on before but had forgotten lots of it. Very scenic and enjoyable, although the climb was fairly narrow and truck-ridden. At one point, we stopped at a creek to get water and another rider stopped and said, "hey guys, look behind you!" -- a black bear was crossing the creek; cool!
Arriving in Jasper was good, as I was fairly tired at this point and happy to get off the bike and take a shower. It was still relatively early (i.e. not yet dark) and Dan had been talking about pushing on to Beauty Creek for a while. I couldn't really decide which I wanted more and we debated the pros and cons a little, the main "pro" being that instead of sleeping until about 1:30 and riding during the coldest part of the night we could arrive at Beauty Creek around then and sleep until morning.
This approach won out and after discovering that the stretch is longer than we thought by about 12km -- and also much more climbing -- delicious eggs, ham, pancakes and other goodies were consumed before we headed for sleeping quarters (me in the camper, Dan in the hostel).
Morning was clear and sunny and we competed with a ton of other people for breakfast (unlike the previous night). Good coffee and more breakfast goodies and we were on our way to Sunwapta Pass and the icefields.
We had pretty much perfect conditions for this bit of road: a little coolness as the morning began, bluebird skies for the views and not too much wind. Since most people had been a tad more sensible and slept at Jasper, there was a bit of a bottleneck for breakfast and lots of Randos on the road up the pass.
A really fun descent ensued, with a bunch of recumbents making a slow crawl up the hill. The rolling terrain towards Saskatchewan Crossing was dispatched and we arrived for our last bit of support until later -- Esther was heading back to catch the Be Good Tanyas at the Folk Fest. Luckily, she'd made friends with Craig and Brian who were running support for some guys a little bit behind us, so they took a bag for us to Castle Junction meaning we didn't have to carry our night stuff to there. Bonus!
The good weather continued down the parkway, with moderate winds and a lot of sun. It started getting pretty hot up Bow Summit, but a couple creek-stops made it reasonable.
We finally rolled into the Lake Louise control for some more good food before heading out towards Castle Junction along the (finally) traffic-free (mostly) 1A. Here, we had a bit of a worry as Craig and Brian hadn't caught up yet with our night stuff, but they rolled in only a few minutes after we'd arrived at the control so we attached batteries and sucklike and got warmer clothes on-board for the trip to Golden in the evening + night.
Cruising back along the 1A and onto the truck-heavy evening traffic of the Transcanada, we finally had to put on the real lights and clothes at the AB/BC border in anticipation of the descent into Field.
This was awesome at night! However, the bridge at the bottom has a rather big first gap and my last good flasher (I'd lost one the first night) blew apart. Fearing my rack was gone, I stopped and was able to salvage some of the light and one battery. I did unfortunately have to give up all my speed...
As the night wore on, I felt better and better. There seemed to be a bit of a tailwind and there were a number of other people near us on the road. Cruising down the "10 mile hill" was also a blast, although I'd never realized how steep the climb in the middle really is. This put us into Golden around 1am for some more food, a shower and a sleep stop, getting up at about 5:45 to get on the road by 6:30am (just about 4 hours of sleep).
Luckily, it was cloudy and not too hot yet so the climbing was fairly enjoyable. The official photographers passed by again in their convertible, taking this photo:
It was enjoyable, that is, until Roger's Pass proper — the bit at the bottom has passing lanes up and down, which means they just painted the shoulders out of existence for about a kilometer. Many people were able to figure out how to move over, but several RVs needed hints. One giant one towing an SUV refused to move over or slow down (any more) and literally forced me off the road into the gravel.
This got my gander up and fueled some self-righteous adrenaline-rage climbing, with me imagining all sorts of smashing, punching and general rampaging which might unfold should the offending RV still be at the top. Sadly, they weren't there, which is probably better for me.
Energy and calmness were restored via some food and a 10-minute nap. More sunscreen, ditching of lights and anticipation of the mostly-downhill run to Revelstoke, which is a lot longer (75km) than I remembered (10 memory-km?).
More really good food in Revelstoke and a final hot, sunny push through trucker- and RV- land to Sicamous, ice-cream and the turn-off to Enderby -- and finally some more relatively calm roads. More wildlife sighted: two dead bears in the ditch.
After a long ice-cream stop and some "rules" discussions with some folks from the BC club, we were off, but not before Dan and I had developed a fool-proof "secret control": a post-ride showing of buttocks, which would immediately indicate any "cheaters". Dan would have his hand sander on standby to take a round out of any too-pristine asses...
Silliness aside, we did decide that the spirit of the rules is way more important than their letter, and that anyone who would want to cheat at a Rando event can have their pin if they need it that badly.
We finally arrived at Enderby later than expected (since we had the distance wrong again) for some snacks, adjustments, warm clothes for the night and we were off on the short (25km) leg to Salmon Arm and a real feast.
I was feeling awesome when night and coolness had finally descended and wanted to carry on to the finish to avoid riding during the day (which would be over 30 and sunny, allegedly). Dan took a little convincing and we decided upon a short 30 minute nap when it started raining a little, but finally took to the streets about 1am for the final push.
This was the hardest part of the ride. There were some vicious head-winds along the lakes, a few unexpectedly steep "climbs" (small hills, really) and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open once the sun came up. Luckily Dan had one caffinated Cliff shot left to give me. The suburbs of Kamloops dragged on and on and on and on but the "City Center" exit finally appeared and we made our way to the last control where Esther, Brian and Craig were there to cheer us in.
The control people had beer on hand for a ride-ending cheers. Definitely the earliest I've had a beer, at 0640. Our final ride time was 80 hours, 40 minutes (or 3 days, 8 hours). Full results are available, as are other people's stories and photos.