Sam's Rocky Mountain 1200 Adventure


To Jasper And Back In The Big Ring

Other Ride Reports

Executive Summary

Key Stats
Total:68:1511.0 mph
Moving:48:4415.4 mph
Sleeping:11:000.0 mph
Wasted:8:300.0 mph
100K:3:3017.7 mph
100M:5:5616.9 mph
200K:7:3016.7 mph
300K:11:3016.2 mph
200M:12:2216.2 mph
400K:16:3015.0 mph
Beauty Creek:23:1414.2 mph
Left Kamloops at 10:00 PM with the 90 hour group; rode alone from the first control to my first overnight, Beauty Creek at 330 miles. Got a good 7 hours sleep, then left in the morning for Lake Louise. Cold! Day 2 was by far the hardest day with 270 miles, and four substantial passes (Sumwapta, Bow, Kicking Horse, and Rogers). Leap-frogged a couple 84 hour riders into Golden, then rode with them to Revelstoke to end the day. Slept 4 hours in Revelstoke, then rode back to Kamloops. Wicked heat and headwind for the last 50 miles on Highway 1.

Goals were to get to Beauty Creek in under 24 hours, get plenty of sleep, and finish in under 72 hours. Check, check, and check!

Before The Ride

The weekend before the Rocky Mountain 1200, Del invited me to one of the Portland Wheelmen "Torture Series" rides, which seemed like a good opportunity for a final test of my bike before the Rocky Mountain. The ride was fast-paced and challenging, and left both me and my bike feeling unprepared for the 1200.

Aside from severely worn front brake pads, the chain on my Habanero touring bike started skipping every so often under heavy load. Definitely not something I wanted to live with for 750 miles. I made a mental note to check out the chain before leaving for Canada. I opted not to futz with the brakes. Who wants to waste momentum by braking?

So I broke one of the cardinal rules of randonneuring; never make any changes to your bike right before a big ride. I swapped on a new chain Tuesday night, and went to bed without any kind of test ride.

Day Of The Ride

I woke up at 5:00AM, and drove over to Del's house to pick him up. We headed North, miraculously missing both Portland and Seattle rush hour, right before less miraculously missing our freeway exit. Thankfully Del's orienteering skills got us to the Sumas border crossing where we were detained because I matched the description of a felon of some sort. Apparently there are a lot of felons riding bicycles in Canada. After checking my right forearm for tattoos, the border guards let us continue on our way to Kamloops.

We drove up scenic Highway 1 to Kamloops, admiring the scenic Highway 1 the whole way, and arrived at the Kamloops Curling Club at about 3:30 only to see a volunteer desperately motioning us inside. It turns out that checkin closed in a few minutes and we were among the last people to arrive. Yikes! We got our things together quickly, and got checked in. This was decision time. I had to decide where to leave my drop bags. The "safe" approach was Jasper (mile 275) and Golden (mile 506). But I opted for the aggressive approach, sending a drop bag to Beauty Creek (mile 330) and Revelstoke (mile 598). I carefully put my cold weather clothes for alpine riding in one bag, and my warm weather clothes in the other.

Worn chainring
My plans had called for skimping on sleep the night before so I'd be tired enough for a nap in the afternoon, and then awake enough to ride through the night. Unfortunately the Curling Club was not air conditioned and the temperature was well above my comfort zone. So instead of sleeping I repacked my stuff, then repacked it again. About 30 minutes before the ride I realized that I hadn't yet taken my bike for a spin with the new chain. Confident it would work just fine, I stepped on the pedals. The pedals turned, made a horrible griding noise, and the bike went nowhere. Oops! I tried again, with the same result. Brief inspection showed that my middle chainring was completely useless. I considered being the only rider to DNF before the ride started, but decided to give it a go with my big ring and virtually worthless granny ring.

76 Miles To Clearwater (Mile 76)
Arrival: Thursday, 02:07

I didn't see these waterfalls at night
The start of the ride was amazing. I've ridden very little at night, but to look behind me and see the lights of 100 cyclists was really neat. Particularly when you consider that these were randonneurs, so the lights were bright.

Del leading the 84 hour riders

I had planned to try to find a moderately paced group to ride with through the night, then head off on my own at daybreak. Instead, I chased down the lead rider and traded fast pulls for about 20 miles, when we were finally caught by another rider, and then a recumbent. The third rider and I dropped my original companion and the recumbent, and sprinted to the control, arriving one minute before it opened. The only mishap was a homicidal semi-truck driver who initially pretended to give us a wide berth, then weaved sharply back into the lane, nearly taking out the rider in front of me. Several riders arrived at the control a few minutes after we did, and reported the same problem with that driver.

The temperature was dropping precipitously at this point, so I took 10 minutes to put on tights and thicker socks.

66 Miles To Blue River (Mile 142)
Arrival: Thursday, 06:39

I lost track of people at the control, and headed out on my own around 2:20. My recumbent friend passed me early on, and we leapfrogged each other for a few miles. Finally I left him behind on a sustained climb, and didn't see him again until the end of the ride. After a few miles I realized that there was nobody else ahead of me to chase down, so I settled into a nice rhythm.

Riding in the dark is really pleasant; it was a cloudless night, and the light from the crescent moon seemed to dance on the water of the river next to the highway. The silence of the night was interrupted only by the occasional rustling in the bushes, the faint clatter of the chain, the whir of wind through the spokes, and the rumbling of the engine of the car that had just swerved into my lane and was driving straight at me at 70mph with his brights on.

Invention idea: Lens that mounts on your handlebars, with the shutter button on the hoods. That way when some dumbass driver tries to kill you, you can easily take a picture of his license plate
Fucking maniac. I held my line and felt the breeze from his mirror a few inches away, and the vortex from the car pulled me into the lane behind him as he passed.

I started to feel safer once daybreak hit, and made it to the next control by 06:39. I took a few minutes to eat cookies and take off my tights and warm socks, and hit the road just as the next group of 6 or 7 riders was arriving.

56 Miles To Valemount (Mile 198)
Arrival: Thursday, 10:22

The road to Valemount was fairly forgettable. Miles and miles of rolling hills punctuated by more rolling hills. I was lucky to have a helpful tailwind, though of course we all know that a tailwind on the way out is a headwind on the way back. I hoped that the wind would die off for the second half of the ride. A few miles out of Valemount the temperature started to pick up. I was pleased to see that the control was in an air conditioned building with full food service.

I spent probably 30 minutes at the control eating and hanging out in the air conditioning, and was surprised that no other riders arrived during that time. Apparently most people had stopped at Blue River to eat some breakfast. The volunteers at Valemount were very friendly, and included Susan Barr with whom I rode briefly on last summer's Portland-To-Glacier 1000K. Eventually it was well past time to hit the road again, so I headed toward Jasper.

77 Miles To Jasper (Mile 275)
Arrival: Thursday, 16:10

The cue sheet warned that there were sparse services along this section of the ride, and the sun was baking. 10 miles out or Valemount I turned onto Highway 16, and started the first big climb of the day. "Big" is probably the wrong word to use, but it was a steady 6% for many miles. Hard work for sure, but the view of Mt. Robson at the top made the climb worth it. Mt. Robson is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, and seems to rise thousands of feet out of nothing at all. It was truly breathtaking.

Almost as breathtaking as the speedy descent that followed the climb. I hit a max speed of 52mph on this section, pulling into the middle of my lane to allow a bit more room in case of problems. At the bottom of the descent was one of the few services available on this leg, the Mt. Robson Convenience Store. I stopped in for a cold Orange Soda, but was dismayed to see they didn't have any ice available. So I continued on without filling my water bottles.

Shortly past the stop I hit the second big climb up Yellowhead Pass, as steep as but longer than the first. I started to get really drowsy along this section so I stopped and drank a jolt energy concoction, which claimed to provide 6 hours of energy. Just what I needed! Even with the energy boost I still stopped for a 15 minute roadside nap before finally reaching Jasper at 16:10.

54 Miles To Beauty Creek (Mile 329)
Arrival: Thursday, 21:14

Most riders were going to be stopping at Jasper for the night, but my plans called for riding up to Beauty Creek the first night. That would get me nearly half done with the ride in under 24 hours, well on my way to a successful completion. I ate at Jasper, and left at about 17:00, right as the next group (fellow Oregonians David Rowe, Eric Ahlvin, and honorary Oregonian John Kramer) was pulling in.

The sun was still hot, but the temperatures started to cool as I climbed. And climbed. And climbed. The ride to Beauty Creek was probably the hardest of the entire 1200 for me; after 275 miles I was ready to stop but the steep rollers still had more elevation to give.

After a while your mind starts to play tricks on you. About 30KM from Beauty Creek I realized I was climbing at about 10KM/h, leaving me about 3 hours to get to the control. 10KM later, I was climbing at about 6KM/h, leaving me just over 3 hours to get to the control. Wait a second! I'm not making any progress! I'd alternate between getting out of the saddle and sprinting in my big ring for a few hundred yards to wake up, then slogging along seated in my granny gear. I really, really missed my middle chainring here.

The last couple miles to Beauty Creek seemed to take forever, but then there I was. A couple volunteers commented that they had seen me "flying up the climbs". I guess they drove past when I was sprinting rather than slogging. Anyway the Beauty Creek control was lovely. The volunteers made me several helpings of scrambled eggs and ham, I drank lots of milk, then conked out in a cot at about 22:00, with an 05:00 wakeup time. They were surprised at my late wakeup call, assuming that I'd be riding straight through after an hour or so of sleep.

91 Miles To Lake Louise (Mile 420)
Arrival: Friday, 11:45

I woke up a little early at 4:45, and wandered into the kitchen for more eggs and ham. Wow was it cold outside! I decided to put on my cold weather clothes (arm warmers, leg warmers, neoprene socks.. The works), but it turns out I'd sent all those along with my second bag drop to Revelstoke where they would be completely useless. All I had with me were thin tights and a light windbreaker, and the temperature was in the low 30s.

Yikes, but those are the breaks. I did find a fleece hat which I wore under my helmet, and set off into the early dawn at about 5:30.

The road from Jasper to Beauty Creek is called the Ice Field Highway, for good reason. The mountains in the area are littered with small glaciers that once extended to Florida, before the internal combustion engine came along and melted all the glaciers. The road through the glaciers climbed over Sumwapta pass, followed by a wonderful descent to "The Crossing", a restaurant and hotel between Sumwapta and Bow Summit. Shortly after starting the climb up Bow Summit, Eric and John caught me as I was trying to eat a baked potato while riding. They had slept a couple hours at Jasper, then ridden up to Beauty Creek where they slept a couple more hours. They were on the road well before I was, but stopped at the restaurant to warm up. Eventually I climbed away from them, over the top of the pass and down into Lake Louise.

17 Miles To Castle Junction (Mile 437)
Arrival: Friday, 13:16

Lake Louise had just had a power outage when I arrived, but I hung around for a while anyway chatting with the volunteers. They had a leader-board on the wall from where I could see I was 9th on the road, with one other 90-hour starter ahead of me (Sophie Matter, a tough lady from France). I left right before a couple other 84-hour folks, but they quickly passed me on the climb up to Castle Junction.

The route followed the scenic Highway 1A to Castle Junction; I wished I had time to stop at the various pullouts along the way as there seemed to be a lot of cool stuff to see. Alas, I was now in mad pursuit of the two 84-hour riders, and could not be distracted with scenery. This was an out-and-back road, and about 5 miles from the control I saw Sophie riding the other direction, so she was probably 30-45 minutes ahead of me. When I reached the control, the two 84-hour riders were getting ready to leave, and I saw that they had a support car. No fair!

The Castle Junction control was staffed by friendly folks and, best of all, had chocolate milk which was woefully missing from the previous controls. I had a cup of chocolate milk and a cup of Coke, then hit the road back toward Lake Louise.

69 Miles To Golden (Mile 506)
Arrival: Friday, 17:25

On the way back along Highway 1A I was passed by a couple while I spun up a small hill in my granny gear (once again wishing I had my middle ring). I caught up with them and chatted for a bit about cycling and skiing; the gentleman had actually heard of randonneuring, so he was interested in the route and timeline for the 1200. He gave me directions to Golden ("Turn on Highway 1, and ride for a really long time"), and I left them behind still in pursuit of my 84-hour rabbits.

It's not easy to catch fast riders who are working together, and I could see the two riders off in the distance seemingly always a mile ahead of me. But the descent from Lake Louise past the fascinating Spiral Tunnels to Field was fast and furious, and my superior girth allowed me to make serious time on the duo. At the bottom of the descent they were surprised to see me coast by, and they quickly jumped on my wheel. I later learned that their names were Ian and Holger.

There's an old cycling joke: "What do you call a ride with more than 2 cyclists? A race." and this was no exception. One of the pair later commented that he was looking at his computer as it crept from 40KM/h, to 41KM/h, to 42KM/h, and thinking that he couldn't hold on if it went to 43. This went on for 10-15 miles when Holger flatted and I continued on to Golden on my own.

Holger and Ian

I arrived to Golden about 10 minutes before Ian and Holger, and wolfed down a couple plates of spaghetti. I'd originally planned on riding through to Revelstoke that night, but it was getting late. However fortunately Ian and Holger had had the same idea, and were willing to let me tag along with them. The three of us had a long stop at Golden, probably 90 minutes, before riding toward the final climb of the day, Rogers Pass.

92 Miles To Revelstoke (Mile 598)
Arrival: Saturday, 01:33

92 miles can seem like a long way after a hard day's riding, and ending in Revelstoke would make this a 270 mile day for me, with three big passes to climb over. I was worried that I might not be able to hang with Holger and Ian on the climb, but I think I did OK. I had nice chats with each of them; this was Ian's first 1200, but Holger seemed to have done many. Ian had spent some time in Portland working for a wood mill.

Editorial Comment: Randonneurs love their bright headlights, and while cars generally have brigher lights than even the brightest biking lights, cars usually point their lights at the road. Too many cyclists don't bother to calibrate their lights, and wind up pointing them directly at driver's eyes. Being seen is a good thing, but blinding the oncoming 4000 pound vehicle is not.
We climbed over a false summit, and then quickly plummeted back down to our starting elevation to start the real climb over the pass. The false summit was the harder climb; the real one was short and steep, passing through 5 terrifying tunnels with heavy semi-truck traffic. Finally we reached the top to be greeted by a sign indicating about 50 miles left to ride to Revelstoke.

I wish I could say that it was all downhill (it certainly looked that way on the profile sheet), but this was a tough ride down. The temperature dropped quite a bit, it was dark, and I was cold and tired. We soldiered on, taking a couple breaks to put on warmer clothes and to fix Ian's broken headlight, and rode into Revelstoke after what seemed like an eternity. It's unfortunate what you miss in the dark. It turns out that we crossed right over the Columbia River, and I never even noticed. The headwaters of the Columbia River are a couple hundred miles from Revelstoke in Columbia Lake.

Holger and Ian had plans to sleep for an hour, and then to high-tail it back to Kamloops for a sub-60 hour time. I had no such aspirations, so asked for a 6:00 wakeup call, and slept very soundly.

70 Miles To Enderby (Mile 668)
Arrival: Saturday, 11:12

6:00 came much earlier than I'd hoped, and I had a leisurly breakfast and got on the bike at about 6:45. I didn't feel terribly energetic; I figured the 150 miles to Kamloops should take me about 10 hours, and I decided to ride easy.

Riding to Enderby was a reminder that kitschy tourist traps aren't unique to the American Midwest. I rode past the "Enchanted Forest", which appeared to be a one-slide amusement park with some fake castle towers around it, and a store that claimed to have a miniature replica of Canada inside. No time to stop and look, though. Enderby was waiting.

At Sicamous I turned onto Highway 97a, and rode some long rollers alongside Shuswap Lake, a resorty area with a lot of cyclists and runners. The day was starting to heat up a little, and as I rode into Enderby I saw a store advertising dozens of ice cream flavors, shakes, and malts. I made a mental note to stop there on my way out of town.

As at most other controls, I stayed too long in Enderby, thanks to the hospitalisty of the volunteers. I finally left about 30 minutes after I arrived, and headed towards the second-to-last control a scant 14 miles away at Salmon Arm, forgetting all about the ice cream parlor I'd seen on the way into town.

14 Miles To Salmon Arm (Mile 682)
Arrival: Saturday, 12:43

Best. Control. Ever.
Enderby to Salmon Arm was uneventful. Nice climb up, then flat for a while, then a short steep downhill. Not much to it. Got to the control to the usual clamor of "rider approaching". That's where things got exciting. This was the Cadillac of controls. The volunteers were excited and energizing, and best of all the control had ice cream, slushees, chocolate milk, and soda. Wow! I had some of each, and chatted about the Tour De France and Powells Books with the volunteers.

They had to shoe me out the door; at 45 minutes, I held the record for the longest stop there. I wish I could have stayed longer!

70 Miles To Kamloops (752 Miles)
Arrival: Saturday, 18:15

Whew. The final stretch. There was a torrid downhill from Salmon Arm back to river grade, and then the long 70 mile ride along Highway 1 back to Kamloops. This stretch seemed to go forever, and I found myself wishing I'd left earlier with Ian and Holger so I'd have someone to talk to. It's pretty uncommon that I want to talk to someone, so when it happens you can be sure I'm bored.

Anyway, rode on and on and on. Got hotter and hotter and hotter. Headwind got stronger and stronger and stronger. Kamloops seemed to get further and further away.

And then, just when I thought I'd never get to Kamloops, I still wasn't there. Then finally I was there. It was over. A quick 2-3 mile jaunt through town, and I was back at the curling club where it had all begun. I rolled in with a total time of 68 hours and 15 minutes, about 16 hours better than my time in the 2006 Cascade 1200.