Newsletter - 2008 Archive

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Cycling the Long Road to France:
Preparing for PBP 2007
by E.W. (Wim) Kok

Winter 2006/07 was the beginning of preparing for PBP 2007. In the Northeast this meant being on ice (speed skating) and/or in the snow (X-C skiing) to build basic fitness. To develop that other part called 'roadworthiness' meant resorting to indoor measures such as spinning or roller training. When March came around the eyes started looking for clear blacktop, but with the Ides and the lion around, the lamb -- that other March animal - was nowhere to be seen. When the last week of March rolled around, I got antsy and wanted to get going. If I had only checked my 2006 training diary, I would have noted that I was not behind. Then again the PBP deadline was early and tight. Riding began March 24. Weather-wise the first few rides were reasonable. That encouraged me to go for a longer one. Checked satellite photos; forecast called for flurries or rain. Should I go? Should I not. Now or never. I had to do those early clicks.

March 30/07: Cycled north: winds westerly; gloomy skies. Field and bush still deeply covered in snow. The first hills were fine, felt pretty good. After an hour, a few raindrops, or were they tiny snowflakes? The roads were clear. I looked up, what I did I see? Nothing. The hills that made up the skyline had faded in low clouds, moving in like a stealth bomber. Snow began to fall, wet snow at first. Visibility reduced, flakes caked to man and machine. Should I turn around and try out-cycle this fast moving system? Still 6 km to go before the turn-off east. Snow stuck to the asphalt now. Temperature dropped as I came face-to-face with a cold front sweeping the Peace. How would that end? Pressing on, judging that by being well equipped, I'd most likely make it. That is as long as the road did not turn into a skating rink. And it didn't. After turning east, I escaped the wrath of the weather gods and made it home in a time better than expected. A few days later the conditions for the 50 km populaire were dismal. I reported this as follows:

"Hello Eric and Cheryl: Here is the first result of the Peace Populaire series: I did the 50 km pre-ride on Saturday March 31/07. Roads were clean. It was pretty dismal weather-wise. When I came home the insides of both water-bottles were coated with half a cm of ice. Had not seen this before. [50 km (A) Wim Kok 2:02 Conditions: Temp: -5 C Winds: NNW 28- 37 kph. Wind chill: -14C Sunny]. Today Sunday (April 1/07) we had a combination of a club race and the scheduled 25/50 km populaires. The conditions made yesterday look like a cold picnic. Just to give you an idea, here are the conditions of today: [Temp: -10C Wind: NNW 28-37 kph Windchill: -19C Light snow and blowing snow.] For rider safety in terms of frost bite danger and possible poor visibility we kept the distance to 20 km, then went home for hot chocolate milk. We are looking at rescheduling the populaires.. By the way the forecast calls for lows of near -20C in the next few days. No need to feel sorry, just identifying an alternative for anyone concerned about riding in the rain. Will send the funds in the near future. Cheers, Wim. (in preparation for PBP)" Source:

For the Easter weekend we escaped to Kamloops, where family, friends, spring weather and new greens greeted us. Needless to say that we explored the surroundings on our bicycles. One of these explorations was a solo ride from Knutsford to Nicola and back, 150 km through rolling grasslands and along pristine lakes under sunny and quiet conditions. Need to do that wonderful course again.

Camrose 200 km (Alberta)

Organized by Bill van der Meer (Alberta Randonneurs), the Camrose 200 was the first brevet I tackled (14/04/07). Like in 2003, we started in S. Edmonton and headed out with some 10 cyclists. First through Beaumont, where we reached the highest elevation of the ride and enjoyed a bit of French culture. Many of the town's signs were bilingual. Over very long straight roads through near flat terrain we rode to New Sarepta. This tiny settlement would have remained unknown, had it not been for John Yardley-Jones, longtime political cartoonist for the Edmonton Journal and self described 'ornery mayor' of New Sarepta. There is a park named in his honour, while many murals depict his art. The coffee shop we used 4 years ago was no longer in business. At the next stop, Miquelon Lakes provincial park, the control wasn't open either. History further repeated itself. One of the riders had a flat, somewhere between Miquelon Lakes and Camrose, our lunch stop. The scene at that time: four men and a bicycle pump doing the repair job. Not a lot different this time. The route through old Camrose was quite scenic. After a relaxed lunch at a fast food place, we headed to Wetaskiwin. This section was also flat, except for a coulee, actually a glacial meltwater channel, now occupied by Coal Lake. From Wetaskiwin via Millet and Kavanagh north on Hwy 2A to Leduc. Then east down the same coulee a bit further north. Via Beaumont we returned to the start. With relatively light winds, flat roads and crossing a coulee twice to practice spring climbing, this was probably one of the easier brevets in '07. On a windy days that would most likely be a very different story.

Signs of Spring (200 km)

The first brevet in the Peace, which only an eternal optimist would dub "Signs of Spring", was April 21/07. Then again hope springs eternal. The year 2007 was much like 2003 - who says that history does not repeat itself - record snowfall, and winter just lingering on. The days leading up to the 200 km brevet were anything but hopeful. Cold fronts pushing against the mountains dropped more snow. Further south, the Alberta advantage became a distinct disadvantage, for Calgary had a record snowfall that day. It played havoc with their 200 km 'spring' brevet. When I drove part of the Peace route a few days prior, there was lots of snow left in the fields. I held my breath (not too long) for a better forecast. Cloudy and near freezing temperatures; it looked like it might snow again. Yet, there were signs of spring out there: crocuses peeking through our front lawn; a randonneur doing a 200 km brevet, and at the Farmington Post Office: blooming lilacs, white and purple. Unfortunately, they were on the postage stamps I bought for my control card. Two raven flying overhead, slowing down to look for something edible. The pickings were slim. I was not about to offer myself. From the turn in Pouce Coupe I rode north across the bottom off former glacial Lake Peace, where large snow drifts rested like beached whales, slowly wasting away into pools of meltwater. Another sign of spring.

Lots of climbs on this ride with 2,090 m elevation gain. On a few hills I attempted that out-of-the-saddle, standing-on-the-pedals rhythmic dance. Unfortunately, the rhythm was not. It was a-rhythmic and spasmodic. A-rhythmic best describes that out-of-breath panting, gasping and groaning, with burning quads resisting. A slow and awkward shuffle, but I kept working away at that 'upwardly mobile' dance. After all, there would be 365 hills on Paris- Brest-Brest, and probably as many in between here and getting there. In a small dugout ('waterhole' for the uninitiated) two mallards were admiring each other and their reflections, until they noted a strange bird. The sight of a passing randonneur was apparently enough to end the courting and the vanity. While revving up their engines by going "quack, quack, quack" the ducks took flight for their perceived safety of the skies. Meanwhile along the road large snow drifts, apparently resting in the ditch. I swear however they were actually crawling closer to the edge of the asphalt, hoping to soak up some infrared, and unknowingly, the energy for their very demise. Let's hope that when PBP rolls around and we hit those very hot days, the mere memory of the cold spring days in the Peace will help me keep cool.

Petit Tour de Peace (300 km)

The 300 Km Petit Tour de Peace brevet (28/04/07). A beautiful day ahead according to Environment Canada. What all week promised to be a sunny Saturday for cycling, right up to 4 pm Friday, ended when I got up next morning. It was cloudy. The forecast now called for 40% POP (rain). The thought of leaving rain gear at home was quickly abandoned when it started to rain as I was about to leave. Then: near zero temperatures. Twenty minutes later: terrain slightly rose, better yet I rose, or may we both rose. The rain was getting thicker and whiter. What? I had risen to the freezing level. Wet snow caked my handlebars, forks, face, gloves and helmet. In my yellow rain (snow) gear I looked like Frosty. Drivers must have mused: "Look at Frosty go." Well, Frosty did go all right. After 40 minutes: 5 cm of snow along the road. Next: fog and cloud enveloped me as I crested the hill on Hwy 29 to Hudson Hope, or might 'hopeless' be a better term? While descending to Bear Flats, I came down out of the cloud and now cycled underneath it. A miracle: it was clearing where I was heading. 'Promising' was the word that came to mind, that is until the winds picked up. Headwinds. Blast! New unrepeatable thoughts. In the span of one hour I had seen it all: rain, freezing temperatures, snow, cloud, fog, clearing and then headwinds. That's how the ride proceeded: into the wind. Made it to Chetwynd by lunch time. A good thing to have persevered the first half of the ride, because things started to look up and the second half was a lot easier. The 300 km brevet was done. Probably good practice for PBP.

Grand Tour de Peace (400 + km)

This brevet is a bit of a transitional distance. A good way to get a feel for being long in the saddle and partially in the dark. On the road at 3 o'clock going south to Tumbler Ridge (Km 170) with a temperature of +1 0C. At one of the higher sections (1,162 m), there was still fresh snow along the road, left from the day before. The scenery with snow capped mountain peaks near picture perfect. Winds westerly, a side-wind. Predicted speed: 40 kph, with gusts up to 60. Those wicked winds from the west. When I left Tumbler, the winds became fierce. On the downhill toward Flatbed Creek, I had to peddle as fiercely as the wind blew. Down hill, headwind, uphill, headwind. It tossed and slapped me around as if I were a piece of paper. Thought about calling it quits, then again continuing meant building more character. According to Ricky, my beloved wife, I have already built more than enough of it, and for that reason I could/should have quit (maybe not even started). But what about PBP? So I continued. Saw a moose and two elk. The latter were too close to the road and for my comfort, so I blew a whistle. They darted off into the bush. In Chetwynd (Km 265) I had a solid meal, which gave me wings for the road to Hudson Hope. I needed them, because there was that long climb out of Chetwynd over the hump into Moberly Lake. Near the Peace River bridge, first a huge black bear sauntering near the road. Then a large eagle swooping off the cliff down to the river for something fishy.

Filled up with strong coffee and pecan pie in Hudson's Hope, then at dusk I set out for the final stretch. Lights on; safety sash on; headlamp on. As the natural light faded, the night sky became star-studded, the air crisper by the hour. Everything went quiet. Amazing ambiance. I was pretty well alone on the road. There was the odd deer grazing along the berm, looking up at this yellow phantom passing. A few crossed the road forcing me to stay alert. I regularly shone the light beam sideways to look for wildlife. All I saw however were tens of pairs of green glowing lights in berm and bush, following me as I passed, clear evidence that there were indeed things lurking in the dark: deer eyes reflecting my light. It was eery in one sense, but quite special in another. At the foot of the Bear Flats hill, an 8 km climb, I had to get off the bicycle. Ran out of gas, ate some food and took a few swigs of Coke to boost the other Kok up the hill. It worked. I finished well after midnight. The brevet had taken longer than other 400 km brevets. Then again they did not have the winds and extra hills good for a total of 16,000 feet of climbing. In the final stretch the temperature dropped below zero. Cool, tired, but satisfied. Three done, one left.

600 km Foothills Randonnee

The Foothills brevet covered a familiar route. Going east from Fort St. John into Alberta on the 'road less taken'. A steady tail wind helped me along through Cecil Lake, Goodlow, Cleardale, Hines Creek to Fairview. Two major descents and climbs on this section: the Beatton and Clear River valleys. At Fairview, the furthest east, I headed south into a stiff headwind (Welcome back: I did miss you so much! Really. Let the fun begin), then down and up the Peace valley near Dunvegan, a rather long and challenging climb. Lunch in Rycroft and then on Hwy 49 West to Dawson Creek over another road less traveled, long, straight and for most of it rather flat. The meal (break) in Dawson Creek was quick, but absolutely nothing to write home about. Made it in good time to Fort St. John. With plenty of time in hand for the remaining 200 km, I enjoyed a well deserved - says I - five hour sleep. Left early next morning to go up the Alaska Highway to Wonowon (MP 101). Had planned a lunch break there, but guess what? The only restaurant in town had burnt down two nights prior, so the alternative was dining out of my panniers. Got to the finish just before the rain let loose. Qualified for PBP 2007. Whoopee!

For the intervening 10 weeks to PBP, the major challenge is staying in shape, so I planned two more brevets (1)The Alberta Randonneurs' 600 km Banff-Jasper Classic (in Reverse), see: (; (2)
a 200 km brevet in early August. The latter treated me on a very windy 100 km return. After all, the windy tradition of the 2007 qualifiers was maintained. I had now 2,500 km of brevets in my legs. They were more demanding than 2003. The main reason: the unrelenting winds. One would almost think, but not say out too loud: "there better be some wind at PBP, otherwise my training might be for naught", keeping of course in mind that I specified neither wind direction, nor force. After all, I did have my preferences. I felt I was as ready as I could be for PBP. Time to relax.

P.S. No need for sympathy cards! PPS. Watch for the sequel: "PBP 2007: My Long, Wet and Windy Road to Paris" coming soon to a website near you.


January 17, 2008