Sam's Last Chance 1200 Adventure


From Corn To Kensington: Seeing The Sights Of Western Kansas

Other Ride Reports

Executive Summary

Started at a torrid pace, making it to the 400K mark in 14:44. Stopped to avoid a storm in Norton, and wasted about 7 hours. Took it easy in to Kensington and back to Atwood, then pushed pretty hard to get to Anton. Bad weather and broken pedal on the way back to Byers, too long of a stop there, and rode back in with The Kramer. Finished in 64:39.

Before The Ride

Qualify for RAAM:SUCCESS
Finish in under 60 hours:FAIL
Finish in top 10%:FAIL
No sleeping until Kensington:FAIL

For some reason I thought the ride was supposed to start at John Ellis' house, rather than the hotel. So I showed up to John's house on Sunday afternoon, but there was nobody there. Oh well, high-tailed it down to the hotel right as registration was closing. Whew that was close. Got signed in, and chatted with John Kramer for a bit before preparing my bike.

Ken Bonner -- Seize any opportunity available to get advice from this guy
The ride was to start at 3AM on September 10, so I figured I'd just crash in the car until start time. I packed and repacked my bags, then repacked them again. 6 hours before the ride was to begin and I still hadn't really decided on my strategy for food, water, and clothing. Ken Bonner wandered outside and we chatted for a bit about the previous LC1200, and general strategies. After talking with Ken, I decided to bring my Camelbak. This would be the first time I'd ever brought a camelback on a road ride (that I can recall), so that would be new and exciting at least.

Finally laid down to sleep at about 11:00PM, hoping for a few hours of rest before the start. I wasn't able to get very comfortable, and a few minutes later I heard a knock on the window. It was another rider, Tom Knoblauch, who had seen my bike in the parking lot and offered me the spare bed in his room. That was hard to pass up, so I brought my bike up to his room. We chatted for a couple more hours while he packed; Tom had an ambitious goal of beating Ken's course record (somewhere around 54 hours I think). We finally went to sleep at about 1:00, with a 2:00 wakeup call. Including the all-nighter from Saturday night, I was starting this experiment in sleep deprivation with about one hour of sleep in the last 48 hours. Somehow that seemed appropriate.

Louisville to Byers

We woke up at around 2:00 AM and started the usual pre-ride milling around. I'm never quite sure what to do, so I rode a few times around the parking lot, pretending to check out my gear but really just trying to burn time. I ran into (well, not literally) Vince Muoneke at the start -- Vince is a poet and doctor from Seattle, with whom I shared a nice ride during the Cascade 1200 (he was a volunteer and I was a DNF-cum-volunteer). Finally at 3:00 sharp, after some last minute words of advice from John, we headed out.

I'm the one in back with two triangles
A few minutes past the hotel I realized I hadn't started my GPS. Not that it would ultimately matter that much, but I figured if I had my GPS I may as well use it. So I pulled over and fired it up. Lost about a minute on the lead group there, but I sprinted forward and caught up, right as a few riders leaped off the front never to be seen again. There was a recumbent and an upright rider, both as I later found out accomplished distance riders.

I was satisfied to ride with the relatively large group of quick riders who knew their way out of Louisville. Perhaps 20-30 miles into the ride, the lead group started to spread out, and then I found myself chasing down Tom at the front of the ride (well, except for those fast guys who took off at the start). We traded pulls for a couple hours, but finally the main group caught up with us again. It's always tough to gauge how hard you should be working on these rides. I'd have been better off hanging back with the big group, but I might have missed a good break if I'd stayed back. Oh well.

The first leg of the ride was fortunate to have a mild tailwind, and we rode the 112 miles to Byers [112 miles, 5:35 hours] at a quick pace, arriving at 8:35 AM. I followed Tom in and out of the store, and we were the first two riders back on the road after a 1 minute control stop.

Byers to Atwood

A cornfield in Kansas
I stuck with Tom for a few miles out of Byers, but he was on a mission and is a much stronger rider than I, so before long I fell off his pace and started on my own ride. The morning had started off cool but was now heating up, so I stopped to take off my coat and leg-warmers, just in time to get passed by another couple riders. I started mentally counting off how many folks were ahead of me, but that got depressing so I stopped.

The Cope control [152 miles, 7:47 hours] was 152 miles into the ride, and I arrived at 10:47. 7:47 is a rocking time for 152 miles, so clearly the tailwind was still helping me out. I hadn't eaten anything yet, so I stopped for about 30 minutes to get some water, eat a sandwich, and just generally chill out. While there I got lucky and witnessed the arrival (and departure) of Ken Bonner. Ken's wife arrived a few minutes before he did, and started getting things set up. When Ken arrived, she took his brevet card in to be signed, switched out his camelbak bladder, gave him a little food, and then he was on the road again. It took maybe 5 minutes. Wow.

Feeling a bit inadequate after Ken's performance, I decided I needed to hit the road. The tailwind was still there, and I was having to force myself to keep below 20 mph. A tailwind can be dangerous -- you know that at some point it will become a headwind, so you want to make time while it lasts. But it's very easy to push yourself to up the pace too high, and then you're in trouble.

But I found a nice middle ground, and rolled into the next control at St. Francis [215 miles, 11:29 hours] at 2:29 PM. A couple other folks were right nearby (I think Timothy Bol and Judith Longley?), so we ate a snack together, and I left perhaps 5 minutes after they did.

Welcome to Atwood!
From St. Francis to Atwood the wind decidedly changed directions. We had headwinds, crosswinds, pretty much every kind of wind except a tailwind. This 40 miles took me 3:15 to complete. Ouch. The only good part was that the weather stayed somewhat cool.

Atwood [257 miles, 14:44] was the 400K mark, and I made it in 14:44. That's by far my fastest 400K, but as a point-to-point it's not exactly a valid comparison since I had a tailwind for probably 75% of it. This was the first overnight, but since I hoped to get to Kensington before stopping I didn't even entertain the thought of sleeping. I changed clothes, ate some pizza and then got ready to hit the road.

Atwood to Atwood

My companion for over half of the ride, Peter Morrissey
Another rider, Peter Morrissey, was thinking about DNFing at Atwood. He'd started the ride with severe stomach cramps, and was feeling a little better but still weak. I wasn't looking forward to a long night riding alone, so I convinced him to leave with me. We took off shortly before it started to get dark.

The major rollers of the ride started right outside of Atwood. It was dark so we didn't see most of them, but they kept coming. After what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality only 30 miles, we arrived in Oberlin right before the last services in the town closed. We picked up some refreshments and took a little break, noting some foreboding thunder and lightning in the distance. It seemed to be staying far enough away, so we kept on riding. It was only 30 more miles to Norton, and we figured in a worst case we could find somewhere to hole up.

It turns out there's not much between Oberlin, KS and Norton, KS. Not much except for thunder and lightning, that is. It was our constant companion, and kept threatening to overtake us. What started as lightning every couple minutes became several simultaneous bolts accompanied immediately by thunder, a good indication that it was not far off. A bicycle is not the best place to be during a lightning storm.

Cornfields are like snowflakes, each one beautiful and unique
There was some spirited (panicked) sprinting to get into Norton [313 miles, 20:37 hours] ahead of the storm, and once there we were hesitant to test our luck by riding the next 30 miles to Philipsburg. We tried to sleep on picnic benches, but without any blankets it was way too cold. Finally I decided to rent a hotel room. Peter wasn't sure about that, but I figured if I was wasting time off the bike anyway, I may as well get some quality rest. We were in bed by around 1:00AM, and got a good 5 hours sleep before heading out again.

I have never seen Vincent when he isn't smiling.
Riding to Philipsburg was uneventful. The roads were slightly damp from the storm passing through, but mostly dry. Nevertheless I got my first flat right as we entered town. We rode on through to Kensington [361 miles, 30:40 hours], arriving at the post office and turn around point at 9:40 AM. We stopped to buy sandwiches and to rest, and chat with a couple other riders. Vince was there with his support car and he was as always happy to talk.

The ride back to Atwood was pleasant but dull. We took it slowly. The second day of a 1200 is always the hardest for me. You've got a long way to go, and you're already tired. We rode through Norton [408 miles, 34:30 hours] and got back to Atwood [470 miles, 41:05] at 6:05 PM. Astute readers will note that the 110 miles from Kensington to Atwood took 10:25 hours. I have no idea why, but there were certainly more and longer stops than necessary. We seemed to be leapfrogging Vincent the whole time, and I saw one other randonneur taking a nap in the ditch by the side of Highway 36.

Atwood to Byers

Miraculously when we got to Atwood the winds were once again moderately favorable. There was a tough decision to be made. It was getting dark, and we would likely have to ride without any services until we got to Byers, 180 miles later. That's a long way to go without refilling fluids. But the winds were too good to pass up, so we headed into the night. Unfortunately things were also starting to unravel for each of us -- Peter's achilles tendon was becoming painful and my right pedal was making a very disconcerting *tick* *tick* every revolution. I also noticed a little play in the pedal. With 300 miles left to go, I really didn't want a major mechanical failure, so I tried to keep some inward pressure on the crank.

We caught a lucky break in St. Francis [512 miles, 43:25 hours], thanks to a quick pace up until then. When we arrived there was a gas station still open, so we refilled our water and chatted with a few locals. People are always interested to hear about the ride, and one couple who had been driving from Boulder mentioned that they'd seen several other riders ahead of us. We took off around 11:00, planning to ride to the post office in Anton, and take a 30 minute nap there.

We rode through the night, passing a group of 4-5 sleeping at a motel along the way. I didn't realize it at the time, but aside from 4 fast folks who were likely nearly done by now, these were the only people ahead of us. We were feeling strong, and arrived in Anton [595 miles, 49:01] at 4:01 AM, and conked out in the post office for 30 minutes. When we woke up, we were both feeling pretty stiff and sore, and Peter's achilles tendon was really bothering him. Nevertheless we headed out. Byers was only 55 miles away.

This is not what you want to see with 130 miles left to ride.
But it was a long 55 miles. It was a cold foggy morning, and we hit what seemed to be endless big rollers. We'd ridden these same hills on the way out, but somehow I didn't remember them at all. Peter's ankle was on fire, and finally he told me to take off without him, and he'd limp into Byers. I headed off on my own, and about a mile down the road got my second flat tire. Argh! But that turned out to be the good news. Right after I got back on my bike, the right pedal fell off the spindle. Yeesh. And then it started to rain. hard. Then the rain turned to sleet, and the wind picked up. Then a meteor hit my front wheel. Well, not really but at that point it wouldn't have surprised me.

Riding without a pedal is harder than it sounds. I tried various ways of holding the pedal on the spindle while pedaling, but none of them worked. Eventually I gave up and rode the remaining 25 miles into Byers with my left leg, pushing as much as I could with my right leg, which didn't amount to much. The sleet continued to come down, and I was cold, soaked, and not making very good time with one leg. Finally I arrived in Byers [650 miles, 53:45] at 8:45 in the morning.

Byers to Louisville

I was freezing when I got to Byers. My clothes were drenched, my feet were drenched. I entertained the idea of taking a long nap here. Ignoring my time goals I could take 35 hours to complete the last 100 miles and still finish under the cutoff. Peter was in a worse situation; his ankle was swollen badly, and he wisely decided to end his ride there. At this point a 60 hour finish was well within reason, if I took a short break and got back on the bike. But I decided to spend a few hours trying to dry my clothes and warm up instead.

Another rider who had DNFed the first day offered to let me use his pedal. It wasn't an ideal situation, because my cleats (Crank Brothers) were completely incompatible with his (Dura-Ace), but it at least gave me a platform of some type to push on rather than my spindle.

Meanwhile the group of 5 that Peter and I had passed in the middle of the night arrived. It turns out that they were supported. The support car pulled out dry clothes for each of them, and within about 20 minutes they were back on the road. I fought off jealousy and annoyance, and comforted myself with the realization that riding a 1200K fully supported is a completely different event than doing it mostly self-supported.

Kramer enjoys a burrito
John Kramer pulled in to Byers a couple hours after I did, and I decided to ride out on his coattails. We left at 11:55AM. I was feeling frustrated that I'd taken over 3 hours to get out of this control, but I was very relieved to have someone to ride with. John made a point of mentioning that he was not going to ride harder than he wanted to, which was OK with me. We rode alternately together and apart for the next 70 miles into Platteville [716 miles, 62:05 hours]. About 20 miles out of Byers, the weather cleared up and became a wonderfully sunny, cool day. John noticed my pedal, and reminded me that Crank Brothers pedals are supposed to be rebuilt every so often. Oops. About 20 miles before we reached Platteville, I fell asleep on my bike but woke up quickly after riding over the rumble strips. Little things like that are what keep randonneuring interesting.

It may not be obvious, but that door is holding me up.
At Platteville we stopped to have some burritos (which were delicious!), and sat and chatted for a while. Sometime around there I realized that we only had 35 miles to go, and a 65 hour finish was still well within my grasp. So I bade John goodbye, and sprinted on down the road.

I should have guessed that a ride from Kansas to Boulder was not going to be flat at the end, but honestly many of the hills in the last 40 miles just seemed gratuitous. With only one fully functioning pedal and the other a challenging "metal cleat on flat metal surface", I wasn't able to stand while climbing. So I plodded up hills, and tried to make up time on the way down. After what seemed like an eternity of riding up County Road 29, down County Road A, up Country Road 16, etc... I ended up on a highway that would take me the rest of the way to the finish. Oh, except for that one last hill up to John's house.

No reason to stretch it out, I arrived at John's house [753 miles, 64:39 hours], followed perhaps 20 miles later by John, and then the two folks that I'd lunched with in St. Francis on the way out. We rode back to the hotel together, and just like that the ride was over. I ordered a large pepperoni pizza and a 2-liter of Dr. Pepper, consumed all of it, and fell asleep for a long time.


Overall it was a successful ride. While I can try to blame a slower than desired finish on my pedals and the weather at the end, really there were very favorable conditions to start the ride so the good adn the bad probably cancelled themselves out. 64:39 isn't anything to be ashamed of.

With the benefit of hindsight I would have done things differently. It turned out that the storm never made it quite to the highway, so we could have ridden through to Kensington without stopping. That would have set us up for a speedy finish. Even with the stop in Norton, though, if we hadn't dallied so much from Kensington back to Atwood we could have easily saved a few hours. And finally, I wasted at least 2 hours in Byers on the return trip, just because I didn't want to ride in the rain. There are starving kids in Ethiopia, and I was worried about getting wet.