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Rocky Mountain 1200


A Rocky Ride
by Martin Haynes

The riders were gathering for the 10.00pm start outside the Kamloops Curling Club. A few familiar faces appeared in the crowd of riders and interested people. I did not see John Evans at this stage, the only other Aussie riding. He was riding his fixed wheel with the same gearing as he had used 4 years ago, the last time the Rocky Mountains (RM) 1200 was run. The only two Australians riding then, were Bob Bednarz and John. I had spoken to Bob about the RM 1200 and although his comments were not negative, I had decided to ride the Cascades 1200 23 days prior.

With a few words in French from Monsieur Leppertel of ACP fame and ride director Bob Marsh, there was a hesitant start at the duly appointed hour with 105 riders departing for a clockwise loop of the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Predicted weather conditions were favourable with a high cell sitting over southern British Columbia (BC). Daytime temperatures for the Kamloops, mid to high 20's, overnight 3-8 oC. How low would these temperatures drop to at higher altitudes? I did not know.

We headed off out of Kamloops, over the South Thompson River bridge and rode north on Yellowhead Highway No 5. It was a balmy night and there was soon a string of red tail lights similar to PBP but not as bright or as long.

I rode with three Califorians who I had met on the Cascades ride. Anthony, a physio, his partner Nicole who I was surprised to see riding as she had suffered from a knee problem, and Kitty, the reason I was riding. After the Cascades, she had asked me if I was riding the RM. I had said " No way!", but after a week, when I started to feel human again, I rang Roger to see if any places remained. He replied the quota was 100 and you would be 105, but that's Ok, you are in. I am not sure whether I was excited or resigned!

My following training consisted of riding to the Thirsty Camel coffee shop, a healthy 20km return, and that was not everyday. Lib and I were staying with friends at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island for two weeks after the Cascades. I must say Lib was extremely understanding to this sudden change of holiday plans. I am sure it will cost me plenty.

The road north was busy with traffic in both directions. Oversized trucks carrying loads of pipes and equipment for the booming BC gas fields kept passing with their attendant support vehicles. The road shoulder often ran out as the road approached a rock overhang or bridge leaving you with little space to manoeuvre. The oncoming car headlights added to the uncertainty. This became easier as the night progressed.

The first control was at 123km, Clearwater, Wells Grey Information Centre. For the first time I saw John Evans, putting on some extra layers amongst the souvenir displays at the info center. Refueled and now wearing leg warmers, jacket, beanie and long fingered gloves, I hoped I had enough warm clothes as I was wearing them all!

The first light of day started to appear, about 4.30am, slowly revealing the countryside of hills, river and tall timber of firs and pines. The highway was following the North Thompson as it came south towards Kamloops. I felt we should have been going up hill, but it seemed to me we were doing more downhill. Was this an optical illusion or a tail breeze?

Around 8.30am we got to Control No 2 at the Blue River. The BC Randonneurs stamped the brevet and provided snacks only. If you wanted a feed, the diner was the only place available. This was the only control like this. I ordered the special breakfast and sat at a table and introduced myself to the other riders. I was to ride with a couple of these riders for a while. The Californians had slowed as Nicole's other knee gave problems. We waited and waited. The sole waitress was run off her feet, finally our orders arrived and we left after 11/2 hours.

The road north was undulating as it ran alongside the south flowing river, making for pleasant riding. The scenery remained much the same, green countryside of evergreens with a rapidly flowing river. So different from home.

Next control was Valemount at 320km, a thriving town supplying the BC gas fields, turning right into the community center. The BC volunteers were all very helpful and tried hard to satisfy the riders. Lib arrived at the control, and it was lovely to see her. She was enjoying the trip.

Leaving Valemount we headed again on Hwy 5 to Tete Jaune Cache, turned right and rode towards Jasper on Hwy No 16. We were now entering the Rocky Mountains. Massive snow capped peaks were present on both sides of the highway. Mt Robson at 3954m is another colossus on the left standing alone, it is a majestic peak. Over the Yellowhead pass at 1131m we head into the Jasper National Park

Arrived at Jasper about 8.30pm after 443km. Lib had arranged an hotel a short distance from the control, so after a meal, a delicious shepherd's pie,( two helpings), a shower and bed by 9.30. Sleep came easily. Awake by 1.30am and gone by 2.00, to get the climbing done before the heat arrives. Before that, all the layers are back on and I left with Kitty who was having trouble with the cold and her knees. She had already ridden the Cascades, toured, doing some 600 miles and is now riding the RM. Some gal! I stopped several times to wait, but decide it was not helping Kitty so I rode on.

The road was busy with rented recreational vehicles (RVs), large Winebagos bearing 1800- Dream Canada stamped on the rear, and many others, witness to the North American holiday period. The Rocky Mountains is being loved to death.

I rode with several riders along this section as I was happy to stop and take pictures. One of these riders was Joseph Mauer. He told me his daughter had been studying in Australia and he came out with his wife to see her and rode a Maryborough 600 in December organized by Pat Dorey and Tim Laugh. I remembered his article in Checkpoint and his wife's fear of him dying of thirst during the ride.

Saw a brown bear at the bottom of an embankment browsing on berries. Joseph and I again stopped several times to take pictures of the towering peaks on either side of the road and the river on the Columbia Icefield Parkway. The river was the Athabasca which is turquoise in colour from the glacier melt. Various peaks were signposted with their name and height only to be forgotten in the haze of long distance bike riding.

My fuel gauge was getting low as I arrived at the Beauty Creek Hostel Control (530km). A single van in the parking area signified a very small control. However, I was mistaken, the control was down amongst the trees below the car park. On opening the hostel door, a blast of hot air hit my face- it was roasting inside. Brevet duties done, time to refuel.. The next room contained a small tables and a larger table lined on both sides by a total of 10-12 riders all being fed pancakes, bacon, eggs and coffee. The two volunteers were very busy preparing the breakfast. They were constantly boiling water, cracking eggs, attempting to satisfy demand. Riders were coming and going, but the number sitting at the table remained constant. It was an oasis.

As I returned to the car park Kitty arrived, she was OK. Within a few km the Sunwapta climb started, probably one of the steepest of the ride. The layers of clothing were soon pealed off on the climb, not to be put back on for a while. Soon reached the top, followed by a good downhill. The river running alongside the road was now flowing the other way. Past the mighty Columbia Icefields with glaciers seemingly hanging in mid air, the sun hitting the snow making a striking picture. Over Bow summit (2065m) and a long downhill. The tourist traffic was busy - heavy vehicles are banned on this section but the large RVs are big enough to make up for them.

The road surface continued to be badly cracked, shaking the body incessantly. The shoulder of the road is in poorer condition than the road. Cracks are of different types, some run from the center line to the edge of the pavement at regular intervals and can be quite deep. They demand you provide a bit of self preservation by clenching your buttocks to avoid jarring the seat bones. Other cracks meander willy-nilly along the road surface, some appear large enough to grab the front wheel, but this does not seem to happen. The cracks are presumably caused by the freezing and thawing of the sub-surface moisture.

At 677km, arrived at Lake Louise Control. Friendly volunteers were very welcoming offering amongst other things, mashed potato and pasta. Refueled, down and back on a delightful sidetrack to Castle Junction along a quiet country road. Castle Junction was manned by members of the Alberta randonneurs. The ride rosters approx 100 volunteers to service the controls, a major drain on the clubs' resources. Their efforts are much appreciated by the riders.

The route to Golden is along the Trans Canadian Highway (TCH), Highway1, mainly a two lane road This, I found to be a stressful section of 100km. The highway is the main road link across the Rockies, it is very busy with heavy transports, holiday traffic etc., bumper to bumper. It is the only route, there is no other way to go. The noise was incessant, it often reverberated from the concrete barriers, rock faces etc so you got the noise from both sides. Add to this the often poor road conditions with the cracks, ripple strips and drainage sumps. It was a test of concentration - I did not feel threatened by the traffic, it was just the sheer volume. The truck drivers, in general, were very good giving as much room as they could spare.

Over the Kicking Horse Pass, over the new Yoho bridge spanning the Kicking Horse Canyon. In the darkness, I was unaware of this dramatic scenery, only the road was holding my attention. Finally into Golden, about 1.00am. Lib had again arranged a hotel but I was unable to contact her using any of several phones at the control. So, I decided to sleep at the control . I was issued with two blankets, one for a pillow and one for cover. Again sleep came easily, woke by 4.30am and on the road 30minutes later.

The TCH was still sandwiched between the mountains, so in the daylight offered some great views. The traffic did not seem as heavy and riding in daylight made the going easier.

Rogers Pass at 1330m was the last notable climb, passing through 5 tunnels to evade the avalanches that plague this area to the pass. Lib was waiting at the pass, no doubt wondering what had happened the previous night. She had waited up until 2.00a.m, no doubt my debt grows! Two weeks in Paris has been mentioned!. A good feed at the Pass restaurant and ready for the 38 mile downhill and three more tunnels. Further down the road the surface was heavily indented for about 100m. The cause, a rock slide in May of this year, the scar apparent high up to the left, to the right, a flattened bulldozed area of debris and rock.

Control No. 9 Revelstoke at 965km. The ever helpful volunteers were waiting with food and drinks. The next stage was a delightful side trip away from the TCH, to Enderby. More downhills through well treed valleys, past lakes. I can not remember so much downhill, it seems to outweigh the uphill. The temperature was climbing, so I looked out for a roadside stall selling drinks and icecreams. Three other riders had the same idea and joined me. We left together and remained together for the rest of the ride ride. Towards Enderby, the first agricultural land appeared, the smell of freshly cut hay, farm buildings and animals were present, the land flattened out, the mountains were no more.

Into Enderby, through the traffic lights to the far end of town, on the right was the brick drill hall, the control. Lib was waiting, good , I got a change of nicks. Ah, relief. Lib stayed the night at Enderby as she was tired. After a short break we headed off the short distance to Salmon Arm, the penultimate control.

We had some difficulty finding the control at Salmon Arm. It was a well laid out control with plenty of food ,like all the others. It was decided to head off without a sleep or rest as we were all feeling ok and with only a 100km to go. Mistake. John Evans was resting here and did so for 9 hours because his hotel was not ready for him. Experience tells.

We started off well, rotating the lead, but by Chase the momentum had decidedly gone and the batteries all wound down together. A halt was called for and nap of 30min followed. We could have rested for longer but the cold of the night crept in. At this stage we were back on the TCH, the odd transport came rushing past, but very little other traffic passed us. The road surface was new, what a pleasant change. The Canadian railway line was next to the highway and several long freight trains passed us. Our pace was steady but slow as we made our way towards Kamloops. The lights of Kamloops were on the horizon, no, it was the early morning sky. We plodded on, a few peddles then roll, a few more then roll. We were all tired. Finally the real lights of Kamloops , the sign post we had been looking for "Kamloops Centre" and finally the Kamloops Curling Club and a few hardy souls clapped us in. Brevet duties done, it was time for a beer at 6.00am!

Kitty finished Ok. Anthony and Nicole retired at Lake Louise.

At the after ride dinner, 13 of us were presented with the Can-Am pin for completing the two 1200s. Ken Bonner, a legendary B.C. Randonneur, presented the pins. He had set a new record of 50hours 23 min for the ride, not bad at 65 and this was his 30th 1200km ride. He had also ridden a 1000km on Vancouver Island with Peter Moore, a week prior to completing the Cascades.

Martin Haynes 5/8/08