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Rocky Mountain 1200


Veni, Vidi, Vici: My First RM 1200 !
by E. W. [Wim] Kok


Kamloops here I come. Finally the moment I had been dreaming of and preparing for the 2002 RM 1200 had arrived. The 1,200 kilometer bicycle ride from Kamloops-Jasper-Lake Louise-Salmon Arm-Vernon, and then to Kamloops in 90 hours or less. The route would take us through a stupendous landscape, breathtaking scenery, challenging climbs and daring descents. It would be my first big brevet. During the week prior, I had been closely watching the weather forecast for locations along the route (http://weatheroffice.ec.gc.ca). The satellite photographs showed only clear skies. I kept searching for the proverbial cloud in the sky like a drought-stricken prairie farmer. The 2002 event promised to be a scorcher. As a cool weather cyclist I was somewhat concerned about that. But as the saying goes, que sera, sera. As the date crept closer, so did the anticipation and anxiety. I felt like a kid for whom St. Nicholas couldn't come soon enough, wondering what he would bring? So here is my account of the event.

Training and Preparation

Mentally I must have completed the course a dozen times. I studied the route map and course profile in detail and read numerous accounts of other people's experiences. On the basement wall in front of my rollers/wind trainer was a route map, newspaper clippings, pictures of the 1991 Paris-Brest-Paris event [note_1] and BC Randonneurs pamphlets. Roller training in the basement and with the Blizzard Bike Club (Fort St. John, B.C.), a few times per week, helped maintain the spinning edge. In addition, the northern winter provided good outdoor training opportunities in cross-country skiing and long track speedskating. When I finally decided to sign up for the ride, I was wait-listed as # 53. [note_2] Would I be able to participate? Lesson learned: always do today what is due next month. Meanwhile training continued, followed by the populaires in a spring that never seemed to come. Actually, it snowed more in March and April than it had all winter; the ice on the local lakes disappeared two weeks later than normal. Global warming, I guess.

Finally the qualifying brevets. The 200 km in early May: cool and smokey from forest
fires in Alberta. The 300 km under windy and warm conditions. The sleepless 400 km completed from before sunrise to after sunset, with a bright full moon as companion and bonus during the darker moments. Then the ill-fated 600 km with Bob Boonstra on the July 1 long weekend. What promised to be a pretty good one, turned into a cold, windy and wet miserable event. Do I need to say more. After 250 km we decided to abandon in the Pine Pass. As Bob noted "it was not, that we could not do it, but a matter of did we want to do this. After all what was the real fun in this." I knew that I could do a 600 km, since I already had done so in 2000. Since every randonneur will have 'earned' at least one DNF somewhere in his travels, I figured mine might as well have been under these wretched conditions. Despite the DNF, questions arose as to what valuable lessons could be learned. Was I really prepared for the RM 1200. What gear and training were still needed? What else had I overlooked. Plenty I would say. I had another three weeks to work on the fine tuning.

Equipment and Odds and Ends

My goal was to finish the RM 1200 within the 90 hours time limit, so I would start at 10 pm, ride through the night to Jasper, spend the next night there; and on day two cycle to Golden for another night's sleep. Vernon would be the destination on the third day, while the Kamloops leg was reserved for day four. As this was an unsupported ride, I prepared three drop bags, each containing spare clothing, Gatorade crystals, food, including cans of EnsurePlus and other items. The advice provided by Hubertus Hohl in his 2000 RM 1200 story "Of Bears & Bikers" was invaluable in this respect [on a near-by page - here].

Since feeding and hydration are important at the best of times, hot weather makes it even more critical, so I carried two bottles, one with Gatorade and one with EnsurePlus. Water for continuous replenishment during the ride was in my Camelback. The strategy was to use liquid food during the ride, and solids at the controls. Clothing consisted of cycling shorts, long-sleeved jerseys, and legwarmers for colder moments. BagBalm, as a preventative posterior skin softener would be invaluable, as was a ball cap worn underneath the helmet for sun protection.

And, last but not least, my steed. The 18-year old faithful 'Legge' with Shimano 600 components (yes that bike is definitely old), equipped with 14 a speed transmission (53/39 and 13-26). Two indestructible Arroyo rims with Specialized Armadillos tires (21x 700C), fenders and a rack. Carry on luggage would be stored in a handlebar bag and one rack pack.

Veni: The Approaching Event

After driving 1,000 km to get to Kamloops, I stopped at friends outside Kamloops, who recommended Peter's Pasta as a great place for a quality pre-ride pasta meal. It did indeed live up to its fame. As I left the restaurant I noted a recumbent and another bicycle keeping each other company outside the venue; little did I know that these belonged to Peter Noris and Michael Koth, with whom I would be spending many kilometers during the RM 1200. At the registration site and bike check I met many of the volunteers and riders, who up to then had been only names. Now I could put faces to them. Neat!!

The registration and bike check were straight forward. I left the three drop bags for Jasper, Golden and Vernon. Once outside and doing some last minute preparations, I chatted with Othmar Altmann (and his support crew), who intended to, and indeed did complete the ride in 52 hours. It was a real pleasure to run into Grant McLeod from Saskatchewan. With a mutual "I know you" we crossed paths again. The last time this happened was in 1979, when each one of us was doing graduate studies at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. Both our mutual, and then young, families lived at Uni-Village, the Co-op Housing for married students. Now we had an opportunity to briefly revisit our lives of the last 23 years.

Close to the start time, more last minute preparations -- I actually don't why -- but I'm sure it is a ritual that riders feel they must most go through, similar to dogs marking their territory. As the 10 pm start time approached the atmosphere became filled with excitement, anticipation.The moment of truth was about to arrive. Instinctively we knew how the gladiators felt. Our fate would be better. Ave Caesar, Cyclitori, te Salutant!!!

Vidi: Night and Day 1: Kamloops - Jasper: 443.3 km

As the sun set, an envelope of hot and oppressive air surrounded us. Near ten o'clock some last minute instructions, bike lights switched on, cameras flashed to record the memories. After a countdown, we were indeed off through the streets of Kamloops to Highway # 5 north toward Jasper. We came to a major intersection and the traffic lights turned green, exactly when needed. Evidence of how well organized the ride was! Quickly the pace picked up; we disappeared into the darkness, a string of lights marking our path and progress. The skies were partially cloudy; later the moon would make a conscious and successful breakthrough, illuminating our trail as we passed through Barriere, Little Fort and other small settlements. Trucks loaded with pulp chips passed us, leaving behind a waft of pine and spruce scent. Sawmills along the route, which used red cedar, marked their presence in similar fashion.

Anxiety set in after Clearwater, because the first control had not shown up. "Did we miss a turn-off, would we have to cycle back?" Since we did not see anyone 'back peddling', we plugged ahead. However, had we read the route sheet more carefully, we would have noted that the first control was north of Clearwater. Another lesson learned: if all else fails,..... read the instructions. Finally, there it was at 3:45 am, Control # 1: Clearwater (km 134) A quick break, refilling water bottles, a bite to eat, and exchanging experiences. Within half an hour however we were on the road again. Soon after, I caught up with Michael Koth from Germany. As we chatted, it became clear that our goals were similar, finish the RM 1200, enjoy the scenery and the people. Later on Peter Noris from Florida on his recumbent joined. As the night and the ride progressed, the temperature dropped. Ground fog appeared, which added to the chill. The mountain skyline showed so markedly in the light of the silvery moon, that one almost became poetic about the experience.

Past Avola, we cycled up and then down the Messiter Pass (765 m) on to Control # 2: Blue River (km 229), where we pulled in at 8:31 am. This place should be renamed Bug River, because swarms of tiny vampires enthusiastically welcomed us. After some solid food and refreshments, we crawled back on our bikes, escaped the mosquitoes and tackled the leg to Tete Jaune Cache, rough pavement and increasing heat. We stopped at Valemount to pick up extra water. The temperature soared to 33 0C. It was a scorcher!!! The section Valemount to Tete Jaune Cache seemed to be never ending. Finally, the rusty railway bridge came in sight, followed by the Fraser River crossing. At 14:44 pm we signed in at Control # 3: Tete Jaune Cache (km 339). The rest and soup in a great little rustic restaurant along the fast flowing Fraser River with a marvelous menu, were great inspirations for the leg to Jasper, another 100 km to go.

After leaving Tete Jaune Cache, we passed Mount Robson, a most impressive and outstanding peak. Another long climb appeared. Having done this distance by car, I knew that the climb would be about 5 km with a 6 to 7% grade. The ride along Moose Lake was very pretty. At the Jasper National Park we paid our dues and moved on the Yellowhead Pass (1131 m). 'Climbing' this pass was a non-event, since it did not involve any climbing. Meanwhile Barb Henniger and Ron Himschoot caught up with us and together we arrived at Control # 4: Jasper (km 449) at 21:48 pm. Almost 23 hours and 443 km later, the first part was finished. At the Jasper control the incredible commitment of the volunteers was evident. They drove us to the showers, filled our plates, even washed our water bottles (!!!), noted our sleeping mat number, and woke us at the requested time. Does one need to say more about the service. Three and a half hours of sleep went by too quickly, considering that the snoring crowd prevented others from going too deep.

Vidi: Day 2: Jasper - Golden (316.9 km)

Day two meant an early start. The air was chilly and the skies overcast. Soon the first raindrops fell. We tried to avoid them for a while, but to no avail. We stopped at the Sunwapta to warm up and dry out. When we started our quest for the Sunwapta Pass (2035 m), the rain stopped. The mountains and clouds were awe inspiring during our ascent to the Pass. Needless to say that it was sheer delight. I could not help it, but my fellow cyclists had to endure a lecture on the physical geography of the surroundings. Thanks, guys for being such a patient (and captive) audience. The last bit up to the Icefields Centre was very steep, close to 13% and I was grateful for the 39/26 gearing. Next time I'll use a triple, which should make it easier. At 10:15 am we arrived at Control # 5: Icefields Centre (km 548.1), where we spent an hour chatting, sight-seeing, and getting ready for the descent. The downhill speeds were incredible, winds howling and whistling through one's helmet. What a rush. Hee-haw!!! Adults became kids again. Peter on his recumbent was nowhere to be seen. If recumbents are slow on the uphill, they more than make up for it on the descent. Michael and I called it the 'revenge of the recumbent.' The section toward Saskatchewan Crossing was familiar to me; I ran this part during the Jasper-Banff relay, some years ago. We stopped briefly at the Crossing to get ready for the long climb up to the Bow Pass (2065 m). The first 18 km I knew from another Jasper-Banff [note_3] relay run, because it was one of the tougher, but most memorable sections of that run. I ran it in the dark, some time after 10:00 pm. I was surrounded by snow-capped peaks; the moon came out and gave the mountains and lakes a fairy tale appearance. Quite poetic. Back to the bike ride up the Bow Pass. Cycling was slow now with grades up to 6 - 7%; Peyto Lake, Bow Pass, emerald coloured Bow Lake, Hector Lake and the long descent to Control # 6: Lake Louise (km 676.1), where we arrived at 18:48 pm.

Time for food, drink, bike adjustments, pictures by Don, and on the road again to Golden. Going up and through the Kickinghorse Pass (1,645 m) was as much a non-event as the Yellowhead Pass earlier in the ride. We only had to climb 112 m vertically over some 15 km to get to the summit, and then a wicked descent. Screaming downhill toward Field. Darkness had set in. What came next was probably the most unpleasant part of the entire event, mainly because of the narrow shoulders of road, the incessant and speeding truck traffic with its deafening roar. The quality of the shoulders also left much to be desired. There were numerous cracks in the pavement, which contrary to normal behaviour, ran in the direction of travel.In the dim headlight these cracks appeared like major crevasses, ready to swallow both bike and rider in one gulp. Afraid that this might happen to either me or Michael, I kept on yelling 'cracks ahead.' He must have thought what a 'crackpot.' In retrospect, I am not so sure that the cracks actually were that big. Maybe it was hallucination, something more riders appear to experience during the sleep deprived events. As we approached Golden, construction zones made things rougher yet, especially where much was poorly identified. At 23:52 pm we pulled into Control # 7: Golden (km 760.2). Time to catch a few hours of sleep. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz !!!

Vidi: Day 3: Golden - Salmon Arm (252.0 km)

Morning came early. I don't know what happened (probably nothing), but according to Karen I did respond in word to her first wake-up call, but not in deed. A second call was necessary. Sorry, Karen. Quickly, I moved about, had breakfast, and was on the bike again. The early morning chill filled the valley with low lying fog. Past Donald Station the road started to climb steadily; the ascent must have taken more than an hour before things eased up. In our descent to Three Valley Gap we noted the Heather Lodge display sign with "Visitors welcome." We responded to the message, to help boost our energy levels and the local economy, but we were not wanted. Not impressed! We continued, only to find out later that other RM 1200 riders had been welcomed in. Not impressed, again. Ah, well. Some you win, some you lose. The temperature dropped to a chilly 5 0C, but as we started the climb to the Rogers Pass (1,330 m), the sun shone on our side of the valley. At the summit we stopped to enjoy the scenery and an outstanding smorgasbord at the Best Western. Time for a commercial endorsement here. The choice was a great variation of the 'on the bike" menu of water, Gatorade and EnsurePlus. Well rested and recovered, we rushed down toward Revelstoke and back into the heat. At 13:47 pm we pulled into Control # 8: Revelstoke (km 908.7). More food and drink and back on he bike, but not before Peter had addressed his ancestral needs (he insisted, he must and should have Espresso Italiano before proceeding). We left Revelstoke, uphill again along a very noisy Trans Canada Highway, then through Craigellachie, where Donald Smith in 1885 forever nailed Canadian history. Here he drove the symbolic 'last spike', marking the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

After Malakwa, we wondered when we would get off the Highway. Truck traffic remained very noisy and busy. At the turnoff a metamorphosis occurred. Peace and quiet. Traffic was gone. Arcadia. The scene became pastoral, and the quality of the experience increased substantially. Just what we needed at that time. It did not last long however. As we cycled along the backroad, two big dogs suddenly popped up, refusing to obey their owners' command to leave us alone. Needless to say that our love for dogs did not increase at that time. It definitely influenced our approach the next time we were chased (for more on this, see 'doggone intermezzo' below). Too soon we were back on the Trans Canad Highway with less traffic now, but more hills. These unexpected climbs toward Salmon Arm required the utmost. Also, some 'people' in an old clunker thought it funny to closely pass cyclists and then yell. Not impressed. Soon however we arrived at Control # 9: Salmon Arm (km 1012.2). While I had planned to make to Vernon that day -- this is where my third drop bag was -- we decided to adjust our plans. First a good shower, a meal, some sleep, then leave early.

Vidi: Day 4: The Final Leg: Salmon Arm - Kamloops (182.2 km)

The wake-up call came at 1:00 am. Stunned, I staggered into the common area, realizing that I needed a washroom; I must have stumbled around disoriented, until one of the volunteers, who must have seen similar behaviour, commanded: "go straight, now turn left, then open door, turn left again." I did not need the next command: 'go do your business'. Looking in the mirror, I was convinced that whomever I was looking at, was definitely not me. So, I quickly washed that ghostly looking face, to my surprise discovered myself and went for breakfast. No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not force the pancakes down. Gagging reflections. Arrrgh! Instead, I ate fruit and cookies. After the bike was re-loaded, we asked Nobu for directions on how to get to Vernon. He tried very hard, but I don't think I was coherent enough to understand the many left-right-left-right-left-right instructions. Luckily, Michael, as an experienced randonneur, got, and kept me on the right track as he piloted us in the dark through Salmon Arm neighbourhoods.

That first part included two of the toughest sections of the entire RM 1200. Some very short, but snappy hills, probably no more than 50 meters long, were so steep that my body revolted, the muscles resisted and screamed: "we can't do this, we won't do this, we refuse." I am sure that fatigue, the short sleep and too little recovery had a lot to do with it. So it became a case of mind over matter. I wanted to do this, and these two mole hills were not going to become my nemesis. Indeed, my mind ruled over my matter, and my matter responded, albeit it very reluctantly. Finally, we were on our way into the Salmon Valley. This was familiar terrain as I had cycled it over a year ago in the Interior 200 km Brevet. Not long after I discovered a slow leak in my rear tire. Re-inflation did not work, so it needed to be replaced in the wee dark hours of the night. We then continued amidst aromatic hayfields. Several kilometers later, phantom-like white horses were following us. Shivers up the spine. Eery I'd say.Then a regular clicking sound revealed the cause, sprinklers in the field with their 'tsk tsk tsk tsk' sound, large water jets rotating in sync. Phew!!! What a relief. As we approached the Salmon Valley Junction Store, an abandoned, illuminated, spooky looking tent along the road displayed the "Tour BC" sign. We looked left, and noted a shelter some 50 meters away: a secret control at about 4:00 am. A number of die-hard volunteers staffed the post at this ungodly hour.

The road to Vernon took us through a forested area. Dawn began to crack carefully. Turning left and right numerous times got us to the outskirts of Armstrong and Vernon. Then, an early morning siren of an RCMP squad car broke the silence and brought us to a surprising halt. What could we possibly have done wrong, two innocent randonneurs cycling before 6.00 am, wearing safety vests, and abiding by the rules of the road. The officer had received a call from a trucker in a hurry, who apparently wanted the entire road for himself (or concerned for our safety?), or felt that we took too much of the road. We expressed our appreciation for his concern, and had our rights as vehicle users under the BC Motor Vehicle Act confirmed. [It always good to know what one's rights and responsibilities are under the Act, although on second thought I wonder how much good it does when a cyclist meets a big truck, and ends up dead-right]. At 6:05 am Sunday morning we pulled in to Control # 10: Vernon (km 1087) with only 117 km to go. Time to refresh: a much needed shower, clean clothes, more food and drink, and then the final leg.

"Doggone intermezzo"

As Michael and I departed from Vernon on a beautiful Sunday morning, a gentle tail
breeze ushered us along. Out of the corner of my left eye, I noticed a woman leaving her house, shutting the door behind her. Meanwhile her dog took off. "Doggone," she must have mumbled. We did not pay much attention, until suddenly this black canine came after us in full speed. First reaction, shoo it off. No such luck. The dog persisted and tried again. I then tried another method, which, when carefully executed, can be highly successful; if not, it can be disastrous for the cyclist. By the way dog lovers, take no offense, but the method involves heading straight for the beast, hands on the breakhoods just in case it does not dawn on the dog that danger is imminent, and in case it fails to respond. Most semi-intelligent canines will heed the oncoming danger and wisely take-off: tail between legs. So too this one. "Doggone" we thought. We cheered to soon. With a vengeance the animal came back, this time from behind and in between us, eying up those two beautiful sets of fast-pumping well-tenderized calves. Which one too choose? Thoughts of 'veal cordon bleu au matin' must have crossed the salivating critter's mind. Ready for the attack and the final kill now. Sensing that we were in imminent danger, and entering the emergency zone, both Michael and I reached instinctively for our water (and Gatorade) bottles. Like well trained commandos we instantly reacted in self-defense, giving the canine a full spray from two directions. The animal must not have known what hit him (?), because it bolted at an incredible speed. "Doggone" we thought for the second and final time. Relieved we continued, until some five minutes later a car pulled up beside us. Passenger window rolled down. The driver yelled something like 'where did my dog go?' Had we seen it somewhere? Somewhat miffed, we shrugged it off. Did we care where this randonneur-attacking animal had gone? Did the owner really think that, after such a brutal-morning-disturbing-attack, we were ready to yield one ounce of sympathy? Did she really think that we would have taken her Blackie with us all the way to Kamloops? As far as we were concerned, doggie was hiding somewhere, recovering from the infliction, and licking its wounded pride, I mean Gatorade-covered hide. How sweet it was for the dog that is, probably not as sweet as calf muscles. After all, better to have Gatorade on the dog-tongue than in the distance disappearing "veal au matin". Maybe the owner was unaware of her sweet doggie's morning adventure. We were not about to stop and explain that the critter had a definitive nasty streak. We had work to do. Anyway, we had a good chuckle about the event. Unscathed and re-energized we continued.

Vidi: Meanwhile, Further on the Road to Kamloops

Soon thereafter we met up with Peter again, who would subsequently be plagued with a series of small, but fixable bike problems. On one occasion he used some choice words - smelly, but not repeatable here -- at which time I remarked that, since he was in cattle country the locals would understand. As we neared Falkland, the valley widened. While it looked like we were descending, it didn't feel that way. Luckily the clinometer confirmed that there was a climb of about 3%. The descent was an optical illusion, a deception. At the Falkland General Store we took a break, recovered again and pondered that in a few hours the finish line would be in sight. I was also dreading the vicious winds, which I had experienced during the 2001 Kamloops 200 k brevet. At that time the 'wicked winds of Westwold were wearing Wim thin' [note_4] In the meantime, the weather was about to change. We might be in for a cool and possibly wet finish. Having shed most of my extra clothing in Vernon, this was anything but appealing. A few riders assisted Peter when he had another flat, but I decided to continue. The temperature dropped, however the much feared winds did not wreak havoc. After a few more slugs of liquid food, Gatorade and water -- after all, one has to keep feeding the beast -- I found my rhythm. Then it dawned on me, that I was going to make it within the 90 hour time limit. This triggered many emotions and energies. The emotions ran from pure elation to almost choking; the body reacted as if a horse was smelling the stable. It gave me wings: "Pegasus was indeed flying!"

Through Westwold and along Monte Lake, where the course turned due North toward the Trans Canada Highway. The Thompson Valley was in sight, all that was left a fast descent, and some descent it was. The sweet reward for the many long uphills. Once on the TCH, the course went west. The clarion call 'go west (young ) man' beckoned for a response. The stack of the Kamloops pulp mill was visible. So close, yet so far, since there were another 28 km or so to go. Steady moving along the highway, Mount Peter and Paul coming ever closer. Then, the City Centre exit and turn off on to Battle Street. Excitement building. Under the overpass and a left turn on to Lorne Street, another mile to go. Organizers and volunteers along the final stretch applauding. The finish line! Overwhelming! How sweet it was. Wow! Vici!

Vici: I did it!!!

Off the bike and then to the sign-in at 13:02 on Sunday. Eighty seven hours and a measly two minutes (87:02) after we left Kamloops, I was back 1204.3 kilometers later. What a trip. Within the next few hours the remainder of the riders came in including Michael and Peter. As we were waiting we reminisced about the event. The post-event victory banquet was excellent. We had worked up a great appetite for it. Later, everyone gradually dispersed, going home, savouring the experience, enjoying the accomplishment. What a rush, what an event. Reflecting some three months later on what makes the event so special, I realize there are many aspects. First, the organizers and the volunteers, who were just wonderful; second, the fellow riders and their camaraderie; third, the incredible setting and landscape both physical and human; and, finally an incredible sense of achievement. As Peter said at the end of the ride, you did it, and now you are an ancien. That designation might only be carried after completing the Paris-Brest-Paris, which I hope to ride next August 2003. Thanks everyone for a great experience.

© Wim Kok


1 - In 1991 I came across a randonneuring article in the Edmonton Journal. It heralded the challenges of the 1200 km Paris-Brest-Paris. While I have never participated in this event yet, I kept the article as an inspiration for a dream to fulfill. [back]

2 - While the limit was originally set at 50 riders, the organizers had decided to increase this number, so that everyone who registered could be accommodated, including those on the waitlist. [back]

3 - The Jasper-Banff relay involved a 17-person relay running team. Each member would run a section of the 250 km distance from Jasper to Banff, which had to be completed in 24 hours. The limited entry event took place in the beginning of June each year. Part of the run took place during the night. Unfortunately, this magnificent run was discontinued a few years ago. [back]

4 - For more info see: http://www3.telus.net/randonews/y2001n5/y2001n5wim1.htm [back]