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Lumpy 200
Ride date: June 22, 2019
by Ron Stewart

Holy heck was that hard!

A few weeks back, I DNFed a 400, making it clear that I needed to set aside my PBP ambitions for a few years. It also became apparent that that in trying to quickly prepare for qualifying, I have not had much fun. Fun is important. Looking at the schedule, I saw the Lumpy 200, described by Bob Goodison as, “Adventurous, hilly 200 with lots of gravel.” Perfect. Something different and hard, but manageable. The very definition of fun. I contacted Roy Neifer, and he agreed to come along.

We drove up to Sorrento on Friday, and enjoyed the company of Bob & Susan at their home, as well as the five Lower Mainland riders who would be riding a 400 while Bob, Roy and I did the 200.

Before bed, Roy set up his steel Berg with its 35 mm 700c mixed terrain tires, and I organised my titanium Lynskey with its 42 mm road tires. Roy had decided not to use fenders on this ride, and I had not brought a rain jacket. At Roy’s urging, I packed his spare jacket.

Saturday started gloriously. Bob showed Roy and me his daily commute to Tappen. Just beautiful. Then we got to the gravel and the mountains, where Bob left us behind.

Climbing on well-packed gravel is no big deal. There was very little traffic on these roads. But when things flatten out, it is more tiring than pavement. First, of course, there is extra rolling resistance. And the vibration and pounding wear you, even with fat tires and a metal frame. But you also have to constantly be alert for potholes, rocks, washouts and - worst of all - washboarding. It is mentally taxing. Hitting washboards on a descent is frightening. In Paxton Valley, the road was badly rutted (Roy described it as "technical"), so the exact path became very important. If your sidewall hits the side of the rut, it upsets the bike. Plus, some sections had recently been covered by loose gravel, which really sucks up your energy.

We saw a number of deer on this stretch. Roy got investigated by a pair of friendly young dogs, and I saw a farm dog doing a slapstick routine involving a faceplant on the road, and sproinging in tall hay to see whatever it was that had his attention.

We descended to Highway 97 at Monte Lake and stopped at the store for fluids. Friendly enough staff, but no toilet. There was also a food truck that we did not investigate. Then a short ride on the highway, and back to gravel to go over another mountain to get to Kamloops.

The winds were supposed to be westerly at 20 km/h, which would have been great in the last 80 km. The last 8 westbound km were right into the headwind, getting our hopes up, but after lunch at the turnaround Subway, the wind had swung 180 degrees, right in our faces again. So much for the weather forecast.

From east Kamloops, we used Dallas Road to get to the Lafarge bridge, and crossed to the north side of the South Thompson. The air became still and very warm, and a storm had preceded us. Water was evaporating rapidly from the gravel road surface. The heat and humidity hammered Roy. Plus, the wet surface sucked even more energy than when it was dry.

Roy was about 100 m ahead of me when a black-coloured black bear emerged from the brush down onto the road. I figure it was a yearling - very gangly. After a second it noticed me, about 25 m away, and quickly retreated back up the hill.

Eventually, at km 169, with 38 km to go, we got within sight of Chase. We had been averaging just 15.8 km/h, and we found ourselves at the base of a switchbacking climb in soft gravel. While I snacked, we discussed going to the highway and using pavement to get back to the motel, but I would not have been able to bring myself to climbing the Chase hill, as tired as I was. I started walking up the switchbacks. Roy rode about 80 m, then he got off and started pushing too. Turned out to be 600 m of 15% grade and 500 m at 10% before it got to a manageable 6% and we started riding again. Between talking and walking, we were off our bikes for 39 minutes, covering 1.1 km and climbing 140 m, dropping us well below the required 15.3 km/h for a 207 km brevet. I thought it would be impossible to make up the time. Although sunset was still a couple of hours off, it was pretty dark, so we switched our lights on.

After we had been rolling a half our or so, the rain started. Thank goodness Roy had made me bring his jacket! The road surface developed a thin layer of gumbo, slowing us further. Both of us started to have drive train problems. Roy’s difficulties were worse because he didn’t have fenders to reduce the flow of grit. Then my rear brake failed, although, fortunately at the very top of the last serious descent, so I was able to creep down the slope with the front brake.

Finally we got to pavement for the last time, and the descent was gradual, and we started making time. On this smooth stretch, Roy's GPS chose to fall off his bike. After hours of slogging in damp gravel, I was amazed how fast I could go. I realized that we had 15 km to the finish, and 42 minutes to cover it. If we could average about 22 km/h, we could finish on time.

Roy and I had to reach into the deepest parts and go as hard as we could, and Roy’s front derailleur was still giving him grief. There were just a couple of very minor climbs, and we were able to get back to Bob's house just at the end of the 13.5 hours. "We thought you were our friend!" I said to route-planner Bob in my best mock-accusatory voice. Bob said that he was also surprised by the difficuly of the course, although he had finished in under 10 hours.

What I needed, and had not had in 4 years, was a successful finish in a hard brevet. Roy and I managed it this time. We agree that neither of us could have finished this one alone. We're both a bit chagrined that we had to push the bikes up the switchbacks, but you do what you need to do.

My stated goal for the ride was to have fun. Did we? Only in retrospect. But that’s good enough. Two days after the fact, I am very, very glad to have done it.

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June 27, 2019