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Heart of the Kootenay SR600
A Super Randonnée 600 in BC
Ride dates: July 14-16
by Bob Koen

I have been thinking about creating this ride for a couple of years. Ever since hearing about the Super Randonnee 600 and Randonneur 10,000 concept I have thought that we should have such a ride in Canada. Now we do.

The concept is simple. Ride 600 km as a permanent in 50 hours. The kicker is that there needs to be at least 10,000 meters of climbing in those 600 km. That means the ride has to be in the mountains. BC has mountains. I thought that it should not be a problem. It turned out to be a big problem. While BC has lots of big mountains it also has lots of valleys and very few roads that climb over those mountains. The roads tend to travel for long distances through the valleys and then pop over the mountains (albeit on some very long climbs) to reach the next valley. After much playing around with Google Maps and RideWithGPS I finally found a route that would work. It took a lot of planning and back and forth negotiating with Sophie Matter, the head honcho in France in charge of all things extreme, to get preliminary approval for the route. Sophie being Sophie there was an unwritten rule that I needed to satisfy. Not only did the route need to be extremely difficult but it also needed to be worthwhile. Truth be told though I had absolutely no problem with that rule. If Sophie hadn’t enforced it I would have. I think that rides should be aesthetic, that they should go to interesting places and should challenge and enrich both the body and the soul. This ride certainly met those criteria.

The only place that I could find that had enough climbing was the West Kootenay region of the southern interior of BC. I used to live in the area in Rossland and that’s where I started going for long rides on my bike. So I knew the roads and I knew how incredibly beautiful the landscape is. There was still a problem though. Even with a route that climbed every major paved pass in the West Kootenay, some on them in both directions, I still didn’t have the required 10,000 meters of climbing. The only way to get the requisite uphill was to add in the Idaho Peak road. This monster climbs 1300 meters in only 18 km but it does it on gravel. I had only ever been there once, many years ago in a car. I checked with Sophie to see if it would be possible to switch bikes for this climb and do it on a mountain bike. After some thought she agreed that it would be OK and within the rules to do that, but in order to meet the criteria of self sufficiency I would have to stash the mountain bike at the base of the climb myself. It wouldn’t be allowed to have someone else do the job or meet me there with the bike when I arrived. And so with the rules established and the time allocated to do the ride I headed out to the Kootenays. The game was afoot.

I drove to Kaslo to the home of my good friends Paul and Osa. I spent a few days hiking and generally enjoying life while waiting for suitable weather. I didn’t want to ride in the extreme heat and forest fire smoke that had been plaguing BC for much of the summer. Nor did I want heavy rain. In the end I got very lucky and got cool and showery weather. I only ever put my raincoat on once although I rode through and around showers several times.

I left Kaslo early on Tuesday morning and went to the base of Idaho Peak to stash my mountain bike. After locking it to a post at the start of the gravel I carried on up the road to see what I was getting into. This climb was after all the big unknown of the entire ride. I drove all the way up and then hiked the trail from the parking lot to the fire lookout. This is a highly recommended side trip for anyone who does this ride. It takes a little over an hour out and back if you are in a hurry. The 360 degree views from the lookout are outstanding. And the wildflowers up there cannot be believed.

I then drove back down the mountain, through the Slocan Valley, and on to Christina Lake and the start of the ride. The start was to be at the Wild Ways Adventure Sports store. The people there were very nice and were happy to let me leave my car in the corner of their parking lot. I quickly suited up and was ready to start the epic adventure.

Day 1
I got going at 4:35 pm, a little later than my planned start of 4 pm. Christina Lake is one of the warmest lakes in BC simply because it lies in one of the warmest valleys. It was a relatively moderate 25 degrees when I started and I knew that the heat would fade as the day turned to evening and as I gained elevation on the 1100 meter climb up to Bonanza Pass. I tried to consciously take it easy knowing that going too hard would not work in my favor later. I even walked some of the steepest part in order to save my legs. I eventually summited Bonanza pass, dropped a couple hundred meters, and headed up the second pass to Nancy Greene Summit. I got there with daylight to spare, put on some warmer clothes, and headed down. By this time I was out of water so I stopped at a stream not far from the summit and filled my bottles. I had brought a Steri Pen with me to treat the water for Giardia and other parasites. Some people in the Kootenays just drink straight from the streams but I think that safety is worth the few ounces that the Steri Pen weighs. After that I enjoyed an incredible descent down through Rossland and on down to Trail. I took a quick picture of the first control at the bridge over the Columbia River and then went in search of some chow. By now it was 9:30 pm and all restaurants were closed. My choices were an A&W open till 11 pm or a McDonalds open till midnight. There is also a 24 hour Tim Hortons but it is well off route. I opted for the A&W. The milkshake was OK, the hamburger not so OK, and the fries were awful. But Calories are fuel so I made do.

Then I headed out and started back up the glorious descent that I had just enjoyed. In all the years I lived in Rossland I had ridden down to Trail many times, and I had ridden up to Nancy Greene summit many times. But I had never ridden from Trail to Nancy Greene. There was just never any reason to ride past my house and keep climbing. Now there was a reason. I got back up to Rossland well enough although I walked many stretches of this steep climb because I could feel my legs cramping up. In Rossland I hoped to get water but it was now after 11 pm and even the pub was closed. I managed to find an outside garden hose at an apartment building to fill my bottles and then carried on with the climb up past Red Mountain and on to Nancy Greene. By now my legs were in a continual state of cramp and I was walking as much as riding. I was seriously worried that this thing was going to be over before getting into its second calendar day. Finally in desperation I unclipped from my pedals and started riding with my heels on my pedals in the place where the soles of my feet would normally be. This was slow and awkward but not as slow and awkward as walking. The effect was to reduce the strain on my quads enough that the cramping stopped. I finally got to the pass and then dropped back down to where Hwy 3B T-bones into Hwy 3. This was the second control so I took a picture of a sign and noted the time on my control card. It was now 1:23 am and I was about 1.5 hours behind my planned time. And that planned time was based on averaging 15 km/hr. In other words, after 119 km of riding I was outside of the time window for a normal brevet by 1.5 hours. Not good. But the intermediate controls on an SR600 are not timed, and there is a 10 hour grace period beyond the normal 40 hours due to all the climbing. So I wasn’t too worried yet but I knew that things needed to start moving along a little quicker if I was going to succeed.

Day 2
I also knew that I had 2 of the six major climbs done and that there was some major downhill in my immediate future. That downhill got me to Castlegar in good time. Here I left the route and went about 1 km into town where I knew there was a 24 hour Tim Hortons. I had a bowl of soup and cup of coffee and tried unsuccessfully to have a 10 minute power nap. Then I went back up Columbia Avenue to rejoin the route and headed up to the Bombi Summit for the third major climb. This time the cramps did not appear and in fact never came back for the rest of the ride. I got to the Bombi Summit at daybreak, took a quick picture and headed down to Salmo.

After Salmo the route goes over Kootenay Pass. This is the highest paved road in BC (but
not the high point of the route). It’s also 90 km from Salmo to Creston and there are no services in that distance. I knew that I needed fuel in Salmo. I got there at about 5:40 am and of course nothing was open. There is a highly recommended restaurant (the Dragonfly) but it had no posted hours. There is a gas station and a Subway that both opened at 6 am. I opted for the Subway. Bad choice. The place opened on time and the attendant had coffee going. But she needed to warm up the oven in order to make me the egg sandwich that I wanted. She promised 10 minutes. It took 20 and the oven still wasn’t up to temperature when I insisted that she make the sandwich anyway. In the meantime I whiled away the time listening to the village nut case fill me in on how he was going to save the world. Or maybe he was only going to save Canada. I wasn’t totally clear on that point. His plan was to sue the RCMP for $100 million because someone had broken into his house and they had failed to apprehend the nefarious criminal responsible. With the money he was sure that he would win he was then going to start his own political party which he would call the Commonsense of the People Party (COPP, get it?). Of course, since common sense is not at all common (I totally agreed with him on that point) he was sure that he would never find any candidates other than himself to run for office. So he was going to have to save Canada (or was it the world?) all by himself. By the time he got done explaining all this to me my sandwich was finally ready. I wolfed the sandwich, gulped the coffee, wished him well and promised to vote for him, and headed for the high country for climb number 4. I was still chuckling by the time I got to Kootenay Pass. Now I was 2.5 hours behind my planned pace. But I had 4 of the six major climbs done and was facing a 45 km downhill and then 80 km of rolling terrain along the east shore of Kootenay Lake. I knew that I could make up some time.

The downhill was quick. I found the third and last 24 hour Tim Hortons in the Kootenays at the junction of Hwy 3 and 3A. I stopped for some calorie replenishment but found to my amazement that I couldn’t eat all of an egg biscuit sandwich. My appetite was deserting me. Usually I find that my appetite increases during the second day of a ride and then decreases after that as my body gets used to the exertion and enters a kind of steady state where calories out equals calories in. This time I just didn’t seem to want calories in at all. I never really bonked though.

The road along the east shore of Kootenay Lake is incredibly beautiful and has low traffic. It may be one of the nicest stretches of road in BC. I enjoyed every minute of it. I also made very good time. I had the ferry schedule in my head and decided that I could make the 2:50 pm ferry if I pushed hard and stayed on the bike continuously for the next 78 km. I did exactly that and got to the ferry at 2:40 pm. I was now back to the schedule that I had originally planned, having made up 2.5 hours on the clock in the last 5 .75 hours of riding. The ferry took 35 minutes to cross the lake. The next section to Kaslo was only 35 km but featured much rolling terrain and a couple of very steep hills. I finally got to Kaslo at 5:30 pm. Paul and Osa were having dinner and of course offered me some but I didn’t want any. The weird appetite thing again. I did manage to get 3 hours of glorious sleep and when I woke up I had a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee.

Day 3
I headed out at 10:30 pm into a light rain to do the 500 meter climb from Kaslo up to Retallack Pass. Then the route dropped about 200 meters to the turnoff to Sandon and Idaho Peak. My mountain bike was still where I left it so I hopped off the road bike and hopped onto the (not recently ridden or maintained) mountain bike and set off for Sandon. When I got a few meters along the way the road steepened so I downshifted, or at least I tried to downshift. Nothing happened. The shifter would not move any farther toward the low gears even though I still had three lower cogs on the back to shift onto. I tried a few adjustments by headlamp but in my sleep deprived and somewhat exhausted state I only succeeded in losing another gear. So I pushed the bike where necessary and rode it where I could. I got to Sandon in an hour that way. But Sandon is only about 200 meters higher than the junction with the paved road and about 6 km in. Now I had 1100 meters to climb in 12 km. There were a few places where the road leveled out briefly and I was able to ride. In the end I walked about 11 of the 12 km and took another 2.75 hours to do it. I got to the top of the road just after daybreak at 4:45 am. I think that walking most of the way may not have cost me much more than an hour or possibly 2 hours over what it would have taken me to ride that distance. It also convinced me that this ride is doable with just a road bike so long as it has strong wheels and reasonably wide tires. 650B wheels and wide tires would probably be the ideal setup. Even with pushing a bike all the way up and then riding down the 10 hours of extra time over the time allotment for a regular 600 km brevet gives a person plenty of time to deal with Idaho Peak.

I rode back down to my stashed bike in good time and switched back to road mode. Then it was down to New Denver for a breakfast that I thought I actually wanted. It wasn’t to be though. I got there at about 6:45 am and nothing was open. On to Silverton. Again, nothing open. So I went on to Slocan City after slogging up an incredibly rude 300 meter climb that caught me by surprise. In Slocan City I found the Harold Street Café just opening up at 9 am. I ordered a substantial breakfast and then ate only part of it. I still had no real appetite but knew that I needed calories. Then I carried on down the Slocan Valley for a couple of hours. At this point I was getting very tired and needed a nap. This area is pretty dry and the grass at the side of the road is of poor quality from a nap perspective. Finally I was able to sleep like a dead person in a cemetery. The nice thing about cemeteries is that the grass is usually well taken care of. And the residents don’t mind you sleeping on their lawn. After 10 minutes on the ground I was refreshed enough to carry on. The day was now getting quite warm and the wind was starting to blow. Of course it was blowing toward me. And it was steadily increasing in strength. I stopped for some chocolate milk and then went on to Castlegar. My pre-planned schedule had me leaving Castlegar for the last climb of the ride at 1:30 pm and I actually got started on it at 1:15 pm. It was starting to look like I was going to get this thing done. I knew that there was a gas station / C-store at the top of the initial steep section of the climb. I decided to use that as my final fuel up station before the 50 km of climbing to the end of the ride. But when I got there I found that the gas station was gone. No food available. I was able to fill my bottles at a campground but was now facing the last climb into a stiff headwind with no food left on my bike but a cliff bar and a chocolate bar. I choked down the cliff bar with substantial difficulty and ate half the chocolate bar with less difficulty. Then I slogged uphill into the wind. I drained my bottles as I rode but was able to find water from a pump at the provincial park campground at Nancy Greene Lake. There was a boil water advisory sign on the pump so I sterilized the water with my Steri Pen. Then I rode the final stretch to Bonanza Pass and rolled down to the finish at the Paulson Bridge and finished the ride in 48:49.

From there I still had 25 km to go to get back to my car. Almost all if that was downhill so it wasn’t much of a hardship. I got to Christina Lake in good time and knew that trying to drive back to Kaslo that night would be a very bad idea so I got a motel room. I had a shower and wanted to go out for a good dinner and maybe a beer or two to celebrate. First thing though was to have a short nap. I woke up from my short nap 11 hours later and went looking for a coffee instead. I still wasn’t hungry even though I was now 24 hours from my previous breakfast in Slocan City with just some chocolate milk, a Cliff Bar and half a chocolate bar for calories since then.

It was several days before my appetite returned.

This was the pre-ride for Canada’s first SR600. The ride will be officially open for others to do possibly later in September but definitely will be open next year. I need to get frame badges and control cards from France before it can be official. And I need to be available to administrate the ride for other riders. That won’t happen until I return from France around Sept 10. The days will be getting short then but the ride will be doable if anyone is keen.

There are several key points to make for future riders:

• Don’t count on finding services between 9 pm and 6-9 am depending on where you are. Carry enough food on the bike to get you through the night.
• Services are generally available in the valleys. There is nothing available anywhere above the valleys with the exception of Rossland, a ski town.
• Water can be even harder to find than food. I recommend carrying a way to filter or purify water from streams. Even then streams can be hard to find in places. It has been a very dry summer.
• The Idaho Peak road is not plowed. If it was a big winter then the road could open much later than mid July. There may be years when it opens quite late, if at all. Then again, global warming could be real. Even the republicans are starting to believe in it. Maybe we won’t get any more big winters. Good for cycling, bad for skiing.
• Bring a sturdy bike with strong wheels and wide tires. Or bring both a road bike and a mountain bike. If you bring two bikes you must pre-place the mountain bike yourself. Self sufficiency with no support vehicle is a key requirement for an SR600.

The rules for Super Randonnees can be found here…

If you want to do this ride contact me at:

Bob at koen dot ca

I think that there are two possible strategies for doing this ride. One is to start at around 4-5 pm as I did and plan to spend some rest time in Kaslo. This strategy gets you to the Kootenay Bay ferry during prime time between 10 am and 7 pm. During this time there are 2 ferries running and the wait time between ferries is never more than 50 minutes. There is no ferry at night between 10:20 pm and 7 am. The rest of the time there is one ferry ever hour and 40 minutes. This is the 2015 schedule.

The other strategy would be to leave Christina Lake much later than I did and plan to rest in Crawford Bay and then take the 7 am ferry. This strategy gets you up Idaho Peak in the daylight but you ride more passes during the heat of the day.


Additional from Ron S:

Ron Stewart offers his bike to anybody who wants to attempt this ride. It is a medium-large Lynskey Cooper CX with front and rear luggage, dynamo lights, battery lights, mountain-bike gearing and wide 650b wheels. You can use his Schwalbe Marathon tires, which ride like a battle-wagon but which are great on gravel, acceptable on pavement, and are very, very hard to flat. You provide the saddle and pedals. You'll probably want to put new disc brake pads. link: on it before you go.

And anybody with 650b wheels who just wants to borrow the tires is welcome.

Fee: One beer.

ronald at moonset dot ca



August 6, 2015