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Mount Baker by Bicycle or Miata?
A Comparative Analysis
by Kevin Bruce

People as individuals can be quite smart but, when allowed to act as a group, they might do all manner of questionable things such as start a war, play hockey, or attend a concert of country and western music. Randonneuring, it could be argued, is yet another example of how this collective insanity works. That is, what we do as a group is crazy, though none of us individually can be called unintelligent. Indeed, the BC Randonneurs claim amongst their ranks a wide range of educated, talented, professional people who, in their daily lives, contribute greatly to the betterment of the society we live in. (Okay, there are a couple of judges in the club, but we'll ignore that for now.) The question I'd like to raise is: are we nuts? Are randonneurs born this way, or can we get over it? Are we genetically pre-disposed to riding ridiculously long distances up steep mountains? Or is this behavior the result of an early childhood trauma such as inadequate potty training and can therefore be corrected through psychotherapy? In short, what's our problem anyway?

Take, for example, the events of August 6, 2005, when twenty-one cyclists, intent on completing a randonée of slightly more than 400 km, set forth from Burnaby at six o'clock in the morning on what was to become a hot, sun-baked day. The riders undertook this challenge fully aware that the itinerary included cycling to the highest possible point on Mount Baker in Washington State.

For the most part, this was a very pleasant ride along mostly flat roads where one encounters some lovely sights. For example, early in the ride we passed through the All-American town of Lynden, Washington which one enters along a tree-lined boulevard with baskets of flowers in full bloom hanging from the lampposts. To the right is a perfectly manicured golf course, and to the left is the clubhouse. There is neither a single bit of garbage on the streets nor weed in the grass, and dust-free late model cars softly purr along at a very reasonable, cautious pace. The houses are wood frame with front porches and are perfectly painted like an idealized movie set. Inside one home, a housewife named Betty wears a kitchen apron over a gingham dress as she puts a fresh-baked apple pie on the window sill to cool.

Much later in the ride, the route travels alongside Whatcom Lake which is also quite lovely. Quiet, rolling tree-lined roads take the cyclist along the lakeshore with its numerous cottages crowding the water's edge. Everywhere are the sights, sounds, and smells of fun in the summertime sun: barbeques sizzle with burgers and hotdogs; swimmers dive in the water and playfully splash each other; relaxing vacationers fill every available lawn chair. Betty has brought an apple pie for dessert. The bullroar of speedboats cracks the air scaring away what little wildlife remains; fish gasp for oxygen in the lead-tainted lake water; the pungent aroma of outboard motor exhaust hangs in the gentle breeze.

Between the above two scenes of idyllic American life, however, there is the climb up Mount Baker. The ascent of approximately forty kilometers, at an average grade approaching ten per cent, in temperatures hovering near 25 degrees Celsius, tests not only the physical capabilities of the riders but also calls into question their sanity. Clearly, this is not normal behavior considering the dehydration, sore muscles, back pain, butt discomfort, bruised palms, and general exhaustion that threatens cyclists attempting this climb. A mouthful of Betty's apple pie while watching the late afternoon sunlight glint prism colors off the oil film on Whatcom Lake sounds much more normal.

Let's do a bit of comparative analysis to see if we can discover just how nuts we are, if indeed we are nuts at all. To this end, we will compare the BC Randonneurs to the Puget Sound Miata Club. The reason for this particular choice of comparison is that this other club held an event the same day as ours, and headed to the same destination - Artist's Point at the top of Mount Baker. At first, it seemed mere coincidence that several shiny Mazda Miata convertibles whizzed past on the climb up Baker. When several dozen more of these vanity vehicles continued the barrage, it became apparent that some sort of event was taking place. A simple Google search turns up not only the Puget Sound Miata Club ( but dozens of other Miata clubs worldwide in Canada, China, South Africa, South America, Middle East, and so on. (Actually, the 'Middle East' web link turned up the following message: "There are no official chapters in the Middle East, but there is at least one enthusiast in Israel who is looking to form one." His name is Bob Novak and his phone number is 42865.)

So, what do Miata clubs do for fun? Well, on this day, they met in Mount Vernon at 9:30 AM, drove scenic back roads to Maple Bay where they took a rest stop, then headed up to Artist's Point at the top of Mount Baker, the same place we were headed. By 2:00 PM, they had returned to Glacier at the foot of Mount Baker for lunch, and then headed home. Like that of the BC Randonneurs, the Miata Club website includes ride reports. I guess that the Mount Baker ride was an easy one for the Miata participants unlike the one last spring where, on a fairly cool day, several of the drivers put down their convertible tops and therefore, the report says, were "roughing it".

Let's begin our comparison with the start and finish times for each event. The Miata Club met at 9:30 AM and began their ride at ten o'clock; the BC Randonneurs mostly gathered shortly after 5:30 AM and departed at six o'clock. The Miata event was finished after the meal that took place in Glacier at 2:00 PM so one assumes that everyone was home in time for supper. The participants in the rando event, on the other hand, didn't finish until at least midnight and some not until 7:00 AM the next day. Since the human body needs sleep, and that the weekend is the best time to make up for lost sleep, I'd have to say that the Miata Club clearly has a more civilized approach insofar as both start time and length of event are concerned. Doctors and health professionals would agree.

Score - Miata: 1, Randos: 0.

Another thing to consider with regard to length of event is that by virtue of shorter events, the Miata people get to spend more time with their families.

Score - Miata: 2, Randos: 0.

Then, there's the food and drink. Since those Miata folks don't have to worry about consuming enough calories and liquids, when they meet for lunch they can eat anything they darn well please. Moreover, while driving a Miata, it is far easier to consume a double latté than while riding a bicycle.

Score - Miata: 3, Randos: 0.

The social aspects of belonging to a club are very important and, given that all the members of the Miata club will finish an event at the same time, they get to spend more time socializing, making new friends, and learning more about each other.

Score - Miata: 4, Randos: 0

Finally, there is the matter of physical fitness resulting from participation in club events and the benefits derived thereof. Judging by the photos on both websites, I think it's safe to say that the Randonneurs carry far less body fat…

Score - Miata: 4, Randos: 1

…smile more frequently…

Score - Miata: 4, Randos: 2

…and that all the fresh air we get invigorates our minds such that we are far less likely to listen to country and western music.

Score - Miata: 4, Randos: 157

Well, look at that - we came out ahead. They're nuts and we're not.

When's the next ride?

Kevin at summit control
(click to enlarge)

August 10, 2005

Baker 400 Results  -  More Photos