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Our Cascade 1200….with Ken
by Gary Baker

As one of the coordinators of the Spring LM 600, I was not surprised to see Ken Bonner's van parked at the start with the curtains drawn when we arrived to set up. Shortly later Ken immerged. I'm not sure when he popped the question, " How would you like to provide support for me on the Cascade 1200?" And I can't say whether it was stupidity or curiosity that led me to say, "Send me some info and I'll give it some thought."

Now I have wanted to ride the Cascade this year, but it was wasn't to be. As for supporting Ken, I knew I had to include Sheryl, but she is loath to encourage my rando riding ( the training rides seen to be very hazardous) and to think she'd provide me with support on a long brevet would be beyond rationale thought. Why would I think she'd join me to support Ken? When I shared Ken's e-mails (long e-mails with direction after direction) with her, I'll be darned, she said, "Yes" without hesitation. It must have been the 'star' appeal.

On telling Ken we were "in", more detailed info and directives arrived promptly. Wow, talk about organized, talk about the cyclist version of a military campaign. We knew that we were in for quite the experience, well we thought we knew.

We meet Ken at Monroe at 3pm to transfer all the support gear from his trusty ( actually dying) van to our car. NASA with their triple redundancy approach to safety and preparedness would have been very impressed. Day helmet, night helmet, single gloves, double gloves, day jacket, night jacket, lights, back-up lights, food…I could barely carry the cooler with all its contents and 25 lbs of dry ice. Note to self: Drive with windows open to avoid CO2 poisoning. On our camping trips the car was never this loaded.

Then it was off for dinner and our pre-ride briefing. The look at times on Sheryl's face as Ken outlined the 'plan' was …well never mind!

Five AM we were up to see Ken and the other 71 riders off. At the first control we mingled with the volunteers and other riders' support crews. Good fun. Everyone was interested in Ken's strategy. He does have quite the reputation. In he came, amongst the first riders. Sheryl recorded the time in. I undid the Camelback straps, Sheryl removed the empty one, threaded the straps of a full one over Ken's arms and I fastened the straps. Ken picked out the food he wanted to carry and was gone. Sheryl recorded the departure time. Our instructions were to insure he was in and out in 5 minutes or less. Mission accomplished.

Off we went. It was hard to visualize that a few short miles to the west of the rural routes we were following there was a city of 5 million people. It was starting to warm-up.

As we drove from control to control we thought of doing a bit of sight seeing. As things unfolded we were dreaming in technocolour. We did manage a short stop at a beautiful lake for a quick lunch, but that was it. Second guessing when Ken would arrive at a control provided futile. It was getting warmer…no down right HOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Love, was that a secret control?" It was getting really HOT. The control captain had a huge cooler of ice and dozens of tube socks. We began to fill the socks with ice for riders to drape around their necks when they came in. It was early afternoon and White Pass ( 4600') was looming ahead. The thermometer in the car was reading 40+C. This was brutal. The organizers were clearly very concerned. About half way up the Pass they set up an OASIS….water, watermelon, shade, and encouragement. Ken looked beat, other riders looked finished and a few were!

It was about approximately 9pm when Ken reached the designated night stop ( Naches), about rider 4-5 to get in. Same routine, exchange the Camelback, source out food, but now it was prepare for the night riding. Change helmets, install batteries, arm warmers, jacket. Oops, about 15 minutes went by. Ken was off to climb Chinook Pass. He should make the control sometime around 12:30AM. We got there about 11:30, chatted with Mark Thomas (the control volunteer and one of the event coordinators) for a while and then tried to get some sleep (in the car). Some sleep, what sleep? It was then about 18C and it felt COLD.

When Ken arrived it was a quick turn around and he headed down. We left about 5 minutes later. Sheryl was surprised how far he had gone before we passed him. Further down the mountain we encountered 3 riders (one on a recumbent) who had decided to ride in the cool of the night rather than the furnace that was to be the next day. We headed for the motel that Ken had booked. Again we tried to sleep. Fat chance. Where is he? He should have been here an hour ago. 4:15 AM, Ken opened the door. He got lost and rode an extra 15 kilometers or so….no one is immune.

We had hauled all the gear into the room and laid out the essentials. Ken picked through the cooler. He showered, he ate, he slept for 45minutes, he was up, dressed, strapped on the Camelback, and, oh……..He was having a freewheel problem. Out I went, it was 5:20AM…it was already HOT. I tested the wheel but couldn't detect the problem. I put the spare wheel on. Ken was concerned about its reliability. It will have to do. By 5:30AM he was gone.

It was time to give chase again. We left Yakima and headed east into the Scablands, i.e. the desert with headwinds, hot headwinds. Finally we turned north, it was mid morning and the temperature was 43C. We were really beginning to feel the effects of sleep deprivation. I think it is easier to stay awake when you are physically active than just sitting. The next control was at Mattawa, a farming community on a bench over looking the Columbia River. Trees, wonderful trees…..shade. I found a spot in amongst the Mexican farm workers and did sleep according to Sheryl. We were the only non Mexicans the entire time we were in town waiting for Ken. You talk about hot!!! This was crazy!

The next control, Quincey, seemed a million miles away, through mostly nothing. This was also a designated night stop. The volunteers were just setting up when we arrived. Sleep we needed sleep…….oh for a shady tree and there were a few. When Ken arrived (the first) he was clearly feeling the effects of the heat and decided only mad dogs and Englishman were stupid enough to carry on in these conditions. So he headed for a shady spot. Prior to his arrival we had searched all over town ( it was a Sunday) to find ice and tube socks., which we did. The air conditioned supermarket was hard to leave.

No sooner had Ken arrived, than the ride mechanic rolled up on his vintage BMW motorcycle. Before the engine stopped I had that rear wheel out and was at him. Within a minute or two the rear hub was in pieces, the problem found and everything was back together. Incredible….. As an aside he suggested Ken replace the rims ASAP. Something about rims that have been ridden a lot in wet weather with lots of road grit. Ken slept about 30 minutes (calling it sleep is perhaps questionable). And he was gone again. Before leaving he told us that the next control at Farmer ( actually we were assigned the task of setting up a secret control before there) was very desolate. Ken has a knack of the understatement.

Farmer, the next control really didn't exist. It was an intersection somewhere between nowhere and nowhere. There was a boarded up hall, a huge steel grain elevator nearby, and a large cross erected in 1993 by a group of Christian Cyclists from Lynchburg (sic) South Carolina that was leaning over awkwardly. We wondered what that was all about.

When Ken arrived I don't knew who was more relieved to see the other, him or us. About 15 miles before the control there was a wonderful 10 mile descent. My thought as we headed down was "he was going to pay for this" and he did. We were descending into a huge coulee with a ten mile climb back out. It was spectacular!

It was now well after 10 and Sheryl and I were starving. We were tempted to eat some of Ken's supplies but thought better of it. I also noticed that the gas gauge was precariously low. We could go without food, but the car needed gas, soon. We couldn't make the next control. Sheryl got out the map to look for a town that appeared in bigger print on the map. The closest was Chelan. We told Ken we were going off the route to find gas and to eat and would meet him at the next control. Off we went.

Gas tank full ( getting food was not as successful) we headed north towards the next control at Malott. It was our turn to get lost. We saw a road ( Malott Rd) and turned off the highway. You know that feeling when something just doesn't seem right. Well, about 10 km later the sign said something to the affect, you are entering a non county maintained road, use at your own risk. Back we went! I had printed off some maps using Streets and Trips that contained some clues as to where we were. Within a few minutes we found our way to Malott. There was a store, it looked like people actually lived here. As we waited a few solitary individuals walked by in the darkness. From whence they were coming or going was a complete mystery.

Now Malott is only a few kilometers from the start of the Loup-Loup summit climb. We'd sure like to know the original of that name. Sounds like a name for a candy bar, but there is nothing sweet about this beast of a climb.

We bid Ken goodbye and headed for Mazama. The sun was cresting the mountain peaks and starting to flood the valleys with light. SLEEP here we come.

We arrived at the Inn at 5:30AM, found the key to the room pinned to the bulletin board, prepared the items that Ken will likely want in the morning and crash. 8:15AM Ken arrived. Same routine as yesterday morning, he's gone by 9:30AM.

We pass him about 2/3 of the way up Washington Pass. It was @#$%^&* HOT! The strategy was for Ken to get water at the picnic/observation area at the summit. Mistake.

When we got there it was closed. We stopped to chat with a cyclist pulling a BOB doing a cross continent tour then walked out to the observation point. We could see Ken grinding up the final switchback. Ken reached the locked gate before we got back to it and when we approached he was accepting water from the cyclist we had met. Good thing as we couldn't give him any, against the rules. After Ken left we offered to replace the cyclists water…wink, wink.

Anyone who has ridden the North Cascade Highway east to west knows that the cross winds at Diablo Lake can be beyond scary. Just above the worst area for winds I saw a rider straddling a recumbent stopped at the side of the road taking photos. As the view was spectacular we stopped at the view point overlooking the lake at the big corner. I don't know what prompted me to turn back towards the roadway, but what a sight. The recumbent bike was a tandem and they were leaning hard into the corner. The spokes were whistling. I'd estimate they were going over 80kph. WOW!

Now that we were on the ocean side of the mountains we had expected the temperature to start dropping…wrong. We drove onto the next control point, Marblemount where we waited and waited and waited. I don't know whether the locals found us entertaining or if it was the other way around ( both). Ken had stopped up the highway to cool off with a pint of ice cream.

One more control, Granite Falls. Our original plan was to meet Ken there and then head for home to ride the Canada Day Populaire. But how could we leave Ken there? We told him we'd see him to the end and stay the night at Monroe. He was pleased.

The route from Marblemount to Granite Falls was the least interesting section of the entire route. Even the bare desert seemed to have more appeal. As a driver I was done for. When I get really tired my depth perception goes completely wonky. Dangerous. When Sheryl gets tired at the wheel she simply falls asleep, like drive off the road dangerous. Sheryl drove as this seemed to be the lesser of the two dangers. The control in G.F. was at a combination Chevron/McDonalds. It was clearly the social hub for folks of all ages. Many who seemed to return again, and again, and again.

The route from G.F. to Monroe twisted and turned like a ball of hibernating snakes. Nice country side. I don't know what Ken's average speed was over the last 40km or so, but he must have been smelling the barn as we no sooner unloaded the car and walked to the finish point that he was there. He had a cheering crowd of two! Time 64 hr 41 minutes……amazing.

Ken likes to drink a DARK ale after a ride. Well, Monroe in not a dark ale sort of place so a lighter lager had to do. Sheryl, Ken and I spent the better part of the next 90 minutes enjoying the beer and debriefing the ride strategy and event. I asked Ken if he would have ridden the ride differently and if so how. "No', he said. That's what comes of having ridden his 29th 1200. You really get to know yourself and how to do it.

Throughout the drive Sheryl often pondered, "Why does he do this?" She asked and he replied, " Driven". Understatement….<;

If I agreed to do this out of curiosity, it was satisfied. What does he eat ; not that much although ice cream is a favorite. Unless he was catching catnaps between controls we figure he had less than 2 ½ hours of sleep during the ride. He is incredibly prepared…plan, plan, plan. And he controls his body to match the route and situation in a way that is hard to fully comprehend.

What's it like to provide support to an elite randonneur? Absolutely exhausting. Sheryl and I probably had less that 6 hours sleep, most of which was very fitful. At the end we were completely bagged. The only thing I have done that was harder, was actually riding a 1200. Would I recommend others volunteer to provide this kind of support…for sure. You'd see long distance cycling from a totally different perspective. Would I do it again? Probably. Would Sheryl? You'd have to ask her.

Ken, great ride! It was a privilege to have been apart of it. Have a great RM 1200. Number 30!

Gary, Sheryl, Ken

(Photos from SIR - photographer not identified)

July 16, 2008