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Rocky Mountain 1200


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(Notes about the photos at bottom of page)

Rocky Mountain 1200: Encore!
by E. W. (Wim) Kok, Brevet Organizer, Peace Region


Every second year BC Randonneurs organize(s) a challenge: cycle 1200 km through one of the most spectacular settings in the world in 90 hours or less. For many, completing this [distance] is incomprehensible. Two reflections here. First, Olympic distance runner Emile Zatopek noted that 'if you wish to race, do a 100m sprint; if you want an experience do a marathon'. Second, '[On] the Camino (Note 1), your best friends will be blisters, heat, pain, and snoring travellers - if this is for you, then you will really enjoy your pilgrimage.' Of course one immediately thinks about randonneuring, for this too is both a personal and shared experience.

Having completed the RM 1200 in 2002 and PBP in 2003, I wanted to do another 1200 km brevet. This time the choice was between RM 1200 and BMB. Although I briefly toyed with the idea of doing them both, I dropped that when faced with the logistics of juggling too many things. So it was RM 1200 encore. While for an ancien the 84 hour start may have been the obvious, I selected the 90-hour start. As an ancien I recalled the heat in Kamloops in 2002, and a remark from a then 84 hour starter, that the heat almost did him in. Thus, the game plan was a night start, to cycle away from the heat and complete the ride in about 80 hours with sleep breaks in Jasper (Km 445), Golden (Km 850) and Salmon Arm (Km 1094).

Training in the pre-season was similar to previous years. By the end of May I had completed a 200, 300, 382 (Fleche) and 600 km brevets. In early June I reduced the amount of cycling to shorter and more intense rides. In mid-June my wife and I took a well deserved holiday - says I - and without a bicycle! Some people, those who know me, wondered whether I was sick. A no-winner, because similar questions are asked when they find out that I cycle brevet distances. Admittedly, I did borrow a bike for two fast rides during our holidays. After returning in mid-July, there was one week left to get rid of jet lag, and ready for the RM 1200. A few fast 30 km rides felt good. I was well rested and relaxed for the upcoming event. Upon arrival in Kamloops another short intense ride in the heat, and more relaxation. So relaxed in fact, that my hosts had to suggest that it was time for me to get going to the start.

Vanishing into the Darkness.

Just before 10 pm, first Doug's speech, followed by the now familiar count-down, and we were off. Trying to start off slowly, but being familiar with the route, Roger Holt and I found ourselves at the head of the pack, contrary to all rando wisdom. This was rather ironic, since I had explained to my Kamloops hosts that no-way would I be in the lead pack when we'd be passing through Rayleigh just north of the city. After about 40 minutes a few riders picked up the pace -- precisely at the foot of an uphill section to be clear, as if adding insult to injury-- so my body and sanity told me to let them go. In usual fashion the pack was torn to shreds. Soon after near Barriere, a smaller group formed and made it to Control #1: Clearwater (Km 122 2:30 am) at a good pace. A short break and then northward across the Messiter Summit, our first significant climb, to Control # 2: Blue River (Km 228: 7:31 am). This time no bugs to welcome us. No concern about West Nile virus either. What a relief! We stopped for an hour long leisurely breakfast, and met one of Norway's winter Olympians from decades ago. The road to Tete Jaune Cache was steadily uphill. Combine a headwind with many false plats and you have a premier challenge. False plats are sections, which deceivingly elevate you to greater heights, but at a price: the danger of physical exhaustion and mental anguish.

After we had regrouped, Grant McLeod, John Kramer, Larry Brenize and I decided to ride smarter. We organized a pace-line. Each of us would lead for about 2.5 clicks, then drop to the back, so that each could enjoy a nice draft and chance for recovery. Soon we picked up another rider, Bernie Barge, whom we invited to join us, only on one simple condition: that he tow us all the way to Tete Jaune Cache! Of course this was a 'sick joke' on yours truly's part - sorry Bernie -- but we did extend to him what we did to ourselves: each a 2.5 km pull, then draft. This gave each of us (including Bernie) recovery for a 10 km. Except for one flat tire and a startled black bear, the ride to Control # 3: Tete Jaune Cache (Km 338:13:30 pm) went very smooth. After a great soup, a shower and re-stocking supplies, John, Grant and I then headed for Jasper. This section started with a nice downhill to Mount Robson. Soon both road and temperatures rose in percentages and degrees respectively. Serious business! At Moose Lake we called for a short break to test its turquoise waters. Oh so refreshing! Back on the bike, I briefly thought about changing my planned Jasper sleep break to Beauty Creek, some 85 km further along the route and at least another 4 hours of uphill cycling. When I got to Control 4: Jasper (Km 443:19:30 pm) the thought of a shower, meal and snooze became irresistible. I was easily seduced. The mind-set of a planned break made it difficult to switch plans. Mind games? Mind control?

By 2 am we were on the road again to Control # 5: Beauty Creek (Km 530: 06:10 am). Since 2 am was really 3 am Alberta time, it meant that daylight was just around the corner and below the horizon. At Beauty Creek a life-size rando puppet sat on the barricade, silently greeting us. The early morning was rather cold, but inside the rustic cabin nothing but warmth: wood stove, breakfast, coffee, and of course the crew. Wonderful place with an energizing atmosphere. The climb to the Icefield Centre was absolutely gorgeous, dazzling and of course resistingly uplifting!! The descent our proverbial downfall. At the summit we regrouped with 7 or 8 riders. In no time were we down on the flats to Saskatchewan Crossing, our halfway point of the RM 1200. Robert, a friend of mine, had cycled in from Lake Louise. We had lunch at the Crossing and then cycled the hot long climb up to the Bow Pass for a few Kodak moments on John's camera. Then a long descent to Control# 6: Lake Louise (Km 676: 15:26 pm) with a second flat tire after hitting a small rock on the fast downhill. The almost 50 km return loop via Control #7: Castle Mountain (Km 701: 17:13 pm) was great, except for 'nother flat, my third and final one on this ride. 't Was a 'sleaker' (slow leaker: new word), which fortunately held to Lake Louise on the return (Km 726). At the control David Blanche and Barry Bogart, in true rando spirit, helped me repair the tire and get reorganized (Thanks!!) and then it was off to Golden. When approached from the East, the Kicking Horse is not much of a pass; the downhill on the other hand is absolutely wicked: a heeeeeeee-haw moment! Can't help but think that randos will always be randos, I guess.

John and I did discuss taking a break in Field, but at C$ 150.00 for a few hours sleep, our wallets revolted and we decided against that idea. Daylight was still with us and the 20 minute delay in Field gave us enough recovery to put on the afterburners for a fast trek to Control # 8 Golden (Km 811: 22:39 pm). A shower, a great feed with meatloaf, mashed potatoes and haricots verts (a PBP flashback!) and four hours of sleep. Wonderful. This is randonneuring in style! To beat the heat we were back on the road by 4 am Saturday morning. Two long climbs, first a nameless one with an almost never-ending ascent and almost uncooperative descent into the Beaver River valley. Here the ascent to Rogers Pass started. This climb is relatively short, quite do-able, and rewards you with two marvelous treats at the summit: (1) the stunning view, and (2) the Best Western. Anyone stopping at the convenience store next door would have missed the latter with its fabulous smorgasbord. This meal is worth the price of admission to the RM 1200. If you missed it, may I suggest to sign up for the 2006 edition of RM 1200, so you can experience what you cycled past in 2004.

From Rogers Pass it was just about all downhill to Control# 9 Revelstoke (Km 959:12:18 pm). As we dropped, the temperature rose: the predicted heat wave became a reality. In Revelstoke we recharged our batteries with first a cold shower, then food and lots of V8 juice. No search in town for Italian espresso this time, but onto Enderby. While road construction outside Revelstoke caused a bit of delay, the heat was our worst enemy. Near Malakwa we cycled past a group of randonneurs eating ice cream at a road side stand. A bit later we watched that same group cycling by, as we took a break. The temperatures soared to 38 0C ( if not higher), because my 'instrument panel' recorded temperature in the low forties. This was partially due to the black sensor's absorption of direct sunlight as well as the heat from the pavement (Aren't we exposed to this either?)

Near Sicamous we formed a group of 6: Richard, Dave, Gary, Susan, John and I cruised at high speed along the shores of Mara Lake. Where we got the energy from I still don't know. Through the grape-vine - after all we were on the north-end of wine country - we had heard that there would be ice-cream at the next control. Hot weather, ice-cream, mmmmm!! That may have been the driving force, which kept us going to Control # 10: Enderby (Km 1072: 18:16 pm), where Dan and Bud took excellent care of us for a quick turnaround. But, no ice cream. Who spread this rumour anyway? :-( :-( . In true rando spirit however, we overcame both disappointment and the subsequent long hill into Salmon Arm. I must have consumed about 2 liter water on this 22 km stretch, evidence that the heat was starting to take its toll. We arrived quite early at Control # 11: Salmon Arm (Km 1094: 19:52 pm), so that the planned sleep break seemed rather premature. What to do? Refresh, refurbish, recover and return to the road for a 2:00 am arrival in Kamloops? Riding in the dark, with lots of heat, evening traffic and construction zones gave pause for thought. Go for an estimated finish time of about 75 hours, or take a break. After all we had till Sunday afternoon to complete the final 112 km. As we set at the table enjoying our food, John loudly lamented the missing ice cream at the Enderby control. Pouting :-), and feeling sorry for ourselves, again :-), caused Melissa to take pity on us. She proved a good sport, showed the true character of a control captain and went to town for ice-cream. Wonderful. Could it get any better? We decided to call it a night.

At the crack of dawn, Dan Clinkinbeard, John and I left Salmon Arm . The conditions were ideal. Just about no traffic; temperature 14 0C. Later upon our arrival in Kamloops it would be rise to 25 0C. So we moved steadily to Kamloops, via Sorrento, across the Chase hill to the finish line. Suddenly, almost anti-climactic and uneventful, we arrived at the Kamloops Control (Km 1206: 09:06 am). Total time elapsed 83 hrs:06 min with about 14 hours of sleep. And then there was the beer. A Heineken! It tasted wonderful. What distance a rando will cycle for her/his beer!! It was well worth it.

The post-event dinner was well organized. Meeting more riders and volunteers over good food and cheer, while reminiscing about the latest experiences. Interestingly, the 'ghost' from the past came up to me and introduced himself as Ken Dobb, similar to the name on his tag. First reactions, our mutual pleasure to meet. He then revealed his real, and intended alias: Charles Terront (winner of the first PBP in1893), who by the way looked amazingly alive and well. No sign of age or resurrection. Needless to say that it was neat to learn who the mystery rider was, hinted at in an earlier submission to the newsletter [link].

Overall, the ride went very relaxed. I started well rested. Compared to the RM 1200 two years ago, this time I was able to maintain a slightly higher pace while riding. Managing the controls more efficiently and getting more sleep (14 vs 6 hours) made all the difference. The experience of two previous 1200 km brevets enabled me a more relaxed attitude, which no doubt enhanced the quality of the event. Physically I recovered quite quickly from the event, so much that I was able to complete a few more brevets in August and September. Surprisingly, I noted that I actually gained a bit of weight during the event. Then again, think about it this way: randonneuring after all is a sedentary sport with lots of eating. No wonder!

As a final thought, Sharon, Susan and Doug thanks for organizing this wonderful event and experience. To all the volunteers, you were wonderful. I had a great time. To my fellow riders, it was fun. Thanks.

Note 1: El Camino de Santiago is a very old pilgrimage used by hikers (nowadays also cyclists) from many different departure points in Europe to travel the Way of the Cross of St. James to Santiago di Compostela in Spain.

Notes about the photos: Although a few of the photos are placed to follow the narrative line of the story, most of them do not sync up. Photo 4 (Beauty Creek stuffy) was taken by Ian Stephen, and the last one, photo 7 (Salmon Arm dusk) was taken by Melissa Friesen. Photos 1, 2, 3, and 5 were taken by John Kramer who rode with Wim for much of the ride. Photo 6 of John and Wim at Bow Summit was taken by Robert Martens (on John's camera.)