Newsletter - 2005 Archive

BC Randonneurs logo BC Randonneurs logo

BC Randonneurs
Cycling Club
BC Randonneurs logo BC Randonneurs logo


Ron Penner completed his first brevet series this Spring. Here's his synopsis of the series:

Elephant for Breakfast, Elephant for Lunch…
by Ron Penner

Since becoming interested in brevet distances only a few years ago, I've collected advice from anyone who offered (between experienced riders and the website, there is no shortage). A 200 km ride struck me as impossible for normal human beings, but I kept meeting riders who had finished a 200 or more, and they seemed (relatively) normal. Finally, last year I tried a couple of 200's, the Spring LM, at a good clip, and the Fall Flatlander, with Laura, at a more leisurely pace. The obvious (and impossible seeming) "next step" was a full series. (NOTE: in keeping with the Tao of Rando-ism, I will not mention the times on these rides - also I think we're somewhere between average and slow, so the less said the better.)

Last fall, (as the good advice suggested), I started telling anyone who would listen that I would attempt the whole spring series, and surprisingly, Laura told me that she was interested in joining me. I think I became a bit insufferable on the subject. Then came a whole winter of commuting in the wet and dark, watching the website to see routes as they were announced, even bugging route organizers. They tolerated my enthusiasm as well as Laura did. In late February the weekend rides started. In March we slowly increased distances. Finally, the season started.

April 3 - Pacific Populaire: 100 km
We had geared up for rain during the previous week, and this was a perfect test for that gear. It poured for the first 85 km, the wind howled, we got soaked and figured out what did and did not work. Also, we told ourselves that we had experienced the worst weather early. The brevets would not be as bad as this. Nothing could be as bad as…

April 16 - LM Spring 200
We were among 58 riders gathered in the damp morning gloom at Albion Hall and shuffled off together onto the rainy eastward roads. By the first control (90 km) we were soaked, but thanks to modern material science, not cold. Standing around for 10 minutes eating a bagel solved that "problem" and we shivered off into the rain.

The next stage involved crossing the Rosedale bridge, a hair-raising experience at the best of times. Somewhat numb from the cold southeasterly, we hit the Yellow Barn, still in relatively good spirits. Inhaled a nuked Samosa, a bag of chips and some iced tea. Refreshed, but once again chilled, we hopped on our bikes and trundled off in the direction of Zero Avenue. This was our slowest part of the ride. Near the end of this stage we noticed the rain had stopped. 175 km of it - finally at an end. That made the final control a very pleasant one. But wait, there are black clouds over Aldergrove…

The folks who pulled in 10 minutes before us had hail from those clouds; we got nothing as it turned out. My only concern on finishing was the pain and stiffness in my right knee. I rode from the pub to the car with that leg hooked over the saddle bag, pretty much unusable. What would it do on a 300? Hopefully it was the cold?

April 30 - LM Spring 300
Our first 300, our first cross border brevet, lots of firsts. This time we were 66 riders at 6:00 am in Delta heading off into the gloomy morning (no downpour, good). My left knee stiffened a bit at 70 km. I noticed I was compensating by overworking the right knee. Memories of the 200 told me this was a bad plan, so I geared down some more and tried to spin evenly. It turned out this worked, because the knees were not a problem after this.

84 km to the first control breezed by with some light drizzle. It seemed that a number of the people who introduced themselves were also doing their first 300. An Egg McMuffin and a large OJ refilled the belly in Bellingham and we were off again. The next 57 km were equally pleasant, a bit dryer, and we arrived at Hamilton in sunshine. Had a great lunch there, with the locals providing the colour. Small town life…

We left there with heavy legs, thinking that the next 80 km stage would take us beyond our longest day ever. This seems to be the pattern with us: the second last stage is the toughest. Refueling at the "Super Duper Food Store" in Sumas was timely, as I was very low on fluids at that point. We were warned by other riders at this control that there were still some hills coming.

They were right! The last 82 km started with incessant rollers along the border as we headed back west toward the Peace Arch crossing. Then came the climb up 168th St. and, joy of joys, the ensuing downhill toward 32nd Ave (86.6 kph, don't tell my mother). Shortly after that, the sun set, and we finished the last 30 km (?) in the dark. As I thought, a 300 feels like a long 200. More of everything, except, luckily, knee pain.

May 20, 21 - LM Spring 400
Who knew that there were so many Dewdney Trunk Roads in the Fraser Valley. You see a sign with the right name about 1.5 km before it should arrive. It's a new route, and maybe your odometer isn't calibrated 100%, so you take it. Luckily it only added about 10 km to our total, and that of a few others as well. This one was tough: our first attempt at breaking the sleep barrier combined with what more experienced riders politely called a challenging route.

The route was described as hills, then flat, then more hills, then more flat. The first set of hills was an endless chain of big rollers, scrambling around completely empty roads north of the Lougheed toward Stave Lake. We went through some really beautiful country and ended the stage with cookies, a theme that would continue through all the volunteer-occupied controls. There was a nice descent back down to the Lougheed, then we went over Woodside and out to Harrison for a self-control in a restaurant whose specialty seemed to be Schnitzel! The route back over toward the Vedder area was also quite flat. The second climbing section involved humping our way up to Chilliwack Lake (some of that climb was easy, but there was a section of 13% as well). We descended from that in the gathering gloom, and immediately climbed up to the Columbia Valley (more sections of 13%). Our descent from there occurred in darkness and rain. We were now close to the 300 km mark and Laura was having trouble keeping her eyes open. We had been back and forth a bit with Ron Himschoot and Ali Holt, and they started sticking with us at this point to keep an eye on our progress (very nice). Finally, at Whatcom Road, we headed over to the Tim Horton's. It was hoped a cup of coffee and a donut would prop our eyelids open. Ron and Ali went on alone at our insistence.

The coffee did not do the trick for Laura and about 20 minutes later I left the Tim Horton's alone, with a promise to drive back and pick Laura up (not sure about the wisdom of promising to drive for an hour after riding 400 km). I was still doing OK, so I worked up a bit of speed to catch Ron and Ali. I managed that at the next control where they were just finishing a meal. I grabbed a croissant and refilled an empty bottle with iced tea, hit the washroom and left with them. They were amazing to watch, joking back and forth to keep each other awake. The jokes were mostly groaners, or maybe we were all just groaning for our own reasons. I was not much help in this department, basically hanging on in their general company to keep myself awake. In Maple Ridge I started running over debris on the roadside (it was not a lighting issue, but a brain responding issue). Eventually one piece was big enough to flatten my front tire. After some initial fumbling, my fingers started working again and I fixed it, pumped it up and we continued.

Rolling into the Knight and Day near dawn was very sweet, but victory was short-lived. After dropping off the control card and exchanging congratulations it was time to head off east in the car! I have to say that I did not stay in my lane the whole way out to Abbotsford, and needed every trick I could think of to stay awake. Luckily, Laura had managed a couple hours of sleep, so she was capable of driving home. (Laura wants to amend the DNF in August, perhaps I'll join her. She was in good company in the DNF group: 30 riders started the 400, 25 finished.)

June 4, 5 - LM Spring 600
With Laura not joining me, I was suddenly faced with the daunting task of setting my own pace, riding my own ride, etc. This was a challenge I looked forward to, perhaps too much. The group gets noticeably smaller as you get into the longer distances. 20 riders started out from Maple Ridge in cool temperatures and light cloud cover (perfect). I started with a good group going a very comfortable pace. Then my front tire blew. The group continued without me, after all, it's early, and it's only a flat. When I pulled over I realized that it was a blowout of the sidewall (the result of running into that debris on the 400, probably). Luckily, I was able to patch this up and continue, knowing that I had a new tire waiting for me in Spence's Bridge. I had more or less caught the back of the crowd at the first control at Whatcom Road.

The next stage to Dogwood Café fairly flew by, thanks to a friendly tailwind. The climb up to Lake of the Woods is really not that bad. I pulled into the café, grabbed a soup and sandwich, refilled fluids and took off with Ron Himschoot.

Riding with Ron was great, we talked to pass the time, but suddenly I got it into my head that I wanted to make better time. My success on this ride, I figured, depended on getting to Spence's Bridge (2nd time) as early as possible - to maximize sleep time. So, when I looked back at the top of a hill and noticed that I had opened a gap, and at the top of the next hill the gap was a bit bigger, decided to ride on alone.

I have a list of 7 pieces of advice to bicycle racers posted on my cubicle wall at work (from the early days of bicycle racing, apparently). Rule 7 is "Never pedal out of vanity." I think my desire was to finish this one with full credit. It is great that the more experienced riders notice the newer, slower riders and escort them home (some day I will feel confident enough in my basic ability to finish a ride to do this as well), but there comes a time when you think you should rise above this and do it for yourself. Like I said, vanity. I got into Spence's Bridge (1st time) ahead of schedule. The plan was definitely working. I checked into the motel, and installed the new tire. There were few facilities in Spence's Bridge, so I decided to try a can of strawberry Boost and cheese bagel combo as supper. I wolfed them down, figuring I could drink on the bike, and headed off again. That was a mistake. My stomach felt lousy all the way up to Cache Creek, and I only sipped a bit at the fluids.

At the A&W in Cache Creek, I still had an upset stomach. I didn't feel like eating, but knew I was low on fluids, so I just had a large drink and took off. There was snack food on the bike and I wanted to minimize my night riding. As it turns out, root beer does not sooth the savage stomach, and I finally started paying for the pace I had set to that point. It was a long slow ride back to the motel into a headwind. I kept going by telling myself over and over that it is only 47 km, I should be able to do this in my sleep! Which is pretty much what I was doing at that point.

Pulled into the Spence's Bridge control at around midnight, still ahead of schedule, but feeling completely wasted. I arranged my bags and clothes in preparation for the morning departure and managed a quick shower before dropping into bed. No wakeup call, no alarm clock (I don't wear a watch either). I figured I would let my body decide. If I woke up in time to get on with the ride I would. If not, oh well…

At about 4:00 am, my eyes opened. I felt quite a bit better, checked the limbs, yes they were still capable of movement - good - put on my cycling gear, had another can of Boost (mocha, no bagel) and rolled out of the control to the sounds of coffee pots in the other motel rooms. The headwind was still there, but not too bad. I had a proper sit-down greasy-spoon breakfast in Boston Bar, expecting other riders to come rolling by, but did not see any. I was not particularly fast on this stage, but did keep moving. It started raining at Hell's Gate. I could not get my jacket to zip shut, and it took me a while to figure out that a tiny pebble had jammed itself in the clasp. Pulled out my tools and looked for something narrow and sharp enough to dig it out of there. Good thing, too, because the rain stuck around until Mission! Ali Holt was waiting at the Dogwood Café, offering encouragement, as I downed a well-timed bowl of Chicken Noodle Soup (for the soul AND the body in this particular instance).

Ali warned me that the winds would get worse before they got better. A car driver talked to me as I was loading fresh fluids onto the bike. When I told him I was headed west he said the rain would get worse before it got better. They were both right. I also had real trouble keeping my head up at this point. My neck was not interested in doing its job. Ali had suggested that I stop in Mission at the Tim Horton's for more soup. When I arrived there, and really did feel like stopping, I discovered that she was waiting there as well. Way beyond the call of duty! This time I went for hot chocolate and a donut. Enough sugar and caffeine to push me into Maple Ridge. The wind and rain had stopped, so I pulled on the dry gloves I had been saving for this occasion and cruised into the finish.

I think everyone noticed the stiff neck when I rolled into Bob and Patti Marsh's place. A hot shower, salty snacks, including home made fries, and a beer were definitely therapeutic, but by the time Laura drove up to pick me up I was already starting to fade.

Lessons Learned
Every increase in distance seemed to bring its own lessons. We learned something about rain, and basic perseverance in bad conditions on the 200 and that experience gave us confidence to continue when weather went bad on later rides. We discovered riding in the dark on the 300, and learned that an extra light was needed to read the route sheet and odometer (who knew?). We touched the limits of sleep deprivation on the 400, started thinking about the proper and well timed use of caffeine, sugar and good company at such moments. All of that experience was necessary in order to finish the 600.

Randonneur volunteers are an amazing lot. Staying awake on the bike is one thing, the demands of the road give you something to focus on. Sitting at a control is completely different. As the rides get longer, the time a control is open gapes wider and wider, and somebody has to stick around from Ken Bonner's arrival to the time that the last of us show up. For this reason, I must end this account with a special thanks to everyone who has put effort into this season's rides. From route development (and maintenance), to ride organization, to control sitting, and hosting finish locations, the support was incredible. Beyond that the companionship and encouragement on the road from other riders was also very cool. From this, and from some of the extended diatribes in the discussion group I can sense the passion that you (dare I say 'we' now?) bring to this sport. Very inspiring.

When I think and scheme of future rides, I see that there is still a 1200 km ride waiting for me somewhere, but whatever the next years bring, I will not forget this first attempt at completing a whole series (no matter how hard I try).


June 13, 2005