|After having toured the Icefield Parkway in Alberta for 5 days
from August 26th to 30th, and after completing the UMCA 24-hour Time Trial in Iowa and
Illinois on Sept 3rd, Rowan and I drove across the US from Iowa to Colorado, stopping to
cycle in Nebraska, Missouri, and Wyoming. We stayed in the backpackers in Boulder – a place
I would not recommend, especially during the first week of University – and then, on Sept 9th,
we cycled out to Louisville, where the Last Chance 1200K Randonnee was to start, to get ready
for the big ride.
We made the short trip to Louisville completely laden with all our touring gear and everything else we had acquired along the way. The route led us up to the top of a good-sized hill. When we got to the top, there was a lovely view of the mountains and I wanted to take a photo. As I lifted my leg over the top tube, my heel caught and I fell backward with Machak, complete with heavy panniers, on top of me.
My left leg, and especially the knee, was quite bruised. I also strained a ligament at the top of my left thigh, affecting my pedal stroke, and I bruised, or somehow injured, something in my lower back along the spine. I tried to ride the next day but was in so much pain it triggered an asthma attack. What a way to prepare for a 1200 km brevet!! However, some rest, ibuprofen, a wonderful sports cream, and a few massages later, and I was standing at the start, ready to roll, at 3 am on September 13th.
|We all set off a good pace and it wasn’t long before Rowan and
I had dropped toward the back, as we had expected. Then, just before dawn, Rowan flatted, and
just after dawn, I flatted … increasing our gap on the riders ahead even more. Nevertheless,
by the time we got to Byers, 113 kms, we had arrived prior to my ETA, and there were still
some riders with us.
The course from Louisville to Byers was quite easy – a few small hills, but nothing major. The traffic was also fairly light until we got closer to Byers. However, we were up against a moderate headwind, and would be for the next 552 kms.
| I was also fighting a monumental mental battle – wondering what on earth I was doing out
there. On the one hand, I did not want to do this ride after the season I have had … on the
other hand I really wanted to finish this ride after the season I’ve had! I had invested too
much in terms of time and money to not make some effort.
As the battle continued, I began developing aches and pains everywhere. My right Achilles gave me a few twinges. My left Achilles sent up some screams of pain which continued on and off for 700 kms. Both knees had their turn … then the IT bands and the quads. It’s interesting how the body protests when there really isn’t anything wrong except for the mental struggle.
I wanted to make it to Last Chance, since the ride is called the Last Chance. I felt that if I could at least make it that far, I would have done a century and would have seen the place the ride is named after. Last Chance isn’t even really a town. All it has is a church, a park with a water pump, and a few houses on a surprisingly busy intersection with fairly heavy truck traffic. But I completed my first goal there and my next goal was to do a double century before turning back.
|The little towns we passed through on the way out were short on services, but the people were quite friendly, and I was able to get some food. In Byers I had stocked up on the almonds I usually carry with me on long rides. In Anton, I had a delicious bean and cheese burrito and potato chips. The lady running that store told us that she would leave a jug of water out for the riders who passed through on the way back at night. In Cope, we stopped at a tiny little gas station with a fly-infested washroom but with friendly people who wanted to know what the ride was all about. We were still ahead of schedule at the Cope checkpoint, 233 kms.|
|In Joe’s we donned our night attire, and with one eye on an approaching thunderstorm, we continued on into the night to the sound of howling coyotes. I was desperate for a cup of coffee but Joe’s had nothing open, nor did Idalia or St. Francis, 334 kms. St. Francis was the double century point, and also the point where I decided I would at least make Atwood, 400 kms into the ride – the sleep stop. In Bird City we found a coke machine and the lovely warm step in front of the service station. On rides like this, we appreciate even the smallest luxuries!|
|Meanwhile the storm kept coming closer and closer and we had
several sprinkles of rain … but thankfully, it never came directly overhead. We were,
however, still fighting those headwinds.
||The terrain between Byers and Atwood started quite hilly –
undulating – then flattened right out, which I liked, and then became lightly hilly to
Atwood with one large gorge which came as a complete surprise in the middle of the night.
And Atwood played the usual prairie town tricks … these prairie towns hide and move at night!! We could see lights … maybe that would be Atwood! But no, it was a farm, and another farm, and then a town named McDonald … and then the world turned black with only teensy specks of lights here and there. Where was Atwood? A faint glow on the sky … maybe … no … just another farm … and then finally when the lights were indeed those of Atwood, it was as though Atwood kept cycling the same speed and direction as we were. It took forever before we finally arrived, travelled through the town, and up the hill to the motel.
|Incidentally, Atwood is giving away free
land Atwood! We wondered if all the cyclists would be allowed to
choose our plots on the way through, and then if we successfully completed the ride, we
would be awarded them!!
I experience something on all these 1200K events which men, and possibly most women, are fortunate not to experience. In situations where women exercise a lot, most women do not menstruate. I’m just the opposite. In this instance, I had already started my period before the ride, but the event triggered a massive increase in flow and severe cramping. This added a bit of extra challenge to the ride. I am still trying to research the reasons behind this reaction to long distance cycling events, but have not come up with any conclusions.
It was a huge relief to arrive at the motel in Atwood, which the organizers had booked for us, so I could deal with my difficulties mentioned above, and so I could eat and sleep. Rowan and I got one hour of sleep before dragging ourselves back on the course again at about 4:30 am.
|The terrain became hillier after Atwood – undulating again. We would cycle to the top of
a hill, only to see another hill in the distance. The area was barren – no trees, hardly any
buildings, not even very many cattle! At one point, we stopped to take a photo of the
sunrise. Later we saw the first of the riders on the return trip, Ken Bonner. Mike likely
went by a couple hours later when we stopped in Oberlin.
I was not at all hungry, and even feeling a bit nauseated, when we set off, but by the time we reached Oberlin, about 40 kms down the road, I was starving and so we stopped at a little café for a big breakfast.
|Then we were back on the road again to ride up and down the
hills and look at the vast expanses of brownish grass. I remember the excitement of seeing
a small slough … the odd cow … a tree … and all the while we were still riding into the
headwinds. However, it was interesting to see the cyclists coming back the other way … they
looked so happy and relaxed with big grins on their faces and cheerful waves. They provided
a bit of distraction for us, along with pangs of jealousy knowing that they had a tailwind!!
Both Rowan and I struggled mentally through this section, but I had a number of goals for this day. First, I wanted to make it past the 422-km point. That was the longest distance I’d managed this year before this ride. Then I wanted to reach the 500-km point so that I would have done a triple century. Then I wanted to reach the 600-km point … halfway! If I’m struggling, my mental outlook on these rides usually improves after the halfway mark. We were past the first goal before Oberlin. We reached the second goal in Norton, where we celebrated with some ice cream from Dairy Queen.
I had to take a little 10-minute nap about halfway between Norton and Phillipsburg, and so I laid down on the side of the road. Wouldn’t you know it but that happened to be the moment a couple on Harleys decided to pull up across the road and have a chat with their motorcycles still running! Also apparently the way I chose to lie down, I looked like an accident victim, and Rowan had to do his best to look casual and nonchalant like nothing was wrong!!
|Peter Norris, on his recumbent, caught up to us shortly after my nap and the three of us
arrived at the Phillipsburg control, 552 kms, together at 3:15 pm … still right on schedule
according to my ETAs. We had a great time in the local Subway laughing, and eating and
drinking our fill before setting off again.
||And when we set off, we discovered the reason why all the
other cyclists looked so relaxed and happy on their return trip … we too had that tailwind!
It was wonderful!! Finally we could keep up a good pace without working so hard, and finally
we could hold a conversation without the roaring of the wind in our ears.
We flew into Norton, and paused there a little while to don our night attire, and to debate about the approaching storms. Finally, we decided to continue and deal with them if or when they reached us. Not long after Norton, we reached the 600-km point – I had accomplished all my goals for the day! Oberlin didn’t seem nearly as far away as it had from the other direction, and the hills didn’t seem nearly as difficult … ah, the power of a good tailwind!!
Sadly, after Oberlin, the tailwind started to die and the wind started to come from various directions. It also started to get quite chilly. For some reason, the 40 kms back to Atwood seemed to take us forever. We could hardly get up any speed, and couldn’t really figure out why not.
It was in this section as well, that we had to think through the implications of the errors in the documents we had been given. In Phillipsburg, we discovered the cue sheet and the brevet card were different … slightly different distances, and significantly different control closing times. The brevet card told us that the Atwood control closed at about 7:50 am. The cue sheet told us that the Atwood control closed at 4:53 am. Had we taken advantage of the brevet card closing time and slept till near 7:50 am, we would never have made the next control in time. We would have had to cover 70 kms in about 2.5 hours!! Elsewhere, for other controls, the cue sheet gave us more time than the brevet card. We weren’t sure which one to follow!
Again Atwood, 701 kms, played the prairie town tricks on us, but when we finally chased it down and got there, it was an oasis in the desert, especially for me and my continued difficulties. We got about 2.5 hours of sleep in Atwood and set off the next morning at 5:15 am feeling better than we had the previous morning.
Dawn came before we arrived at the surprise gorge so we were able to see what it looked like. It reminded me a lot of the Drumheller area here in Alberta - barren but with interesting land formations.
We stopped in McDonald for a much-needed breakfast, cycled through Bird City, and then I flatted just outside St. Francis. We both needed the break there, and so while I slowly fixed my flat (I’m not fast when it comes to fixing flats!), Rowan took a little nap. In St. Francis, 769 kms, we had quite a bit to eat at the service station. I was feeling very depleted and needed to replenish my fuel. But now, we were about an hour behind my ETA.
|We arrived in Idalia, 814 kms, at the little café, just when
it was closing down after lunch. Peter was there and was about to leave, so we chatted a
bit, and then Rowan and I went in to beg for whatever scraps we could get. Despite the fact
that they were closed, the lovely ladies who ran that little café went out of their way to
provide us with large sandwiches, potato chips, and pie!!
||In a much better mood, we set off for Joe’s, Cope, Anton, Lindon, Last Chance, and Byers!
In Joe’s we stopped at a little state park to refill our waterbottles and to soak
handkerchiefs in water to put around our necks. In Cope, we stopped for ice cream.
Partway between Cope and Anton, we stopped to don night attire again, and this night we were
faced with clear skies … not a storm in sight!
||The terrain between Idalia and Anton is flat. Completely and utterly flat.
There is nothing out there – no trees, few buildings, few animals … just brownish grass and
mileage markers. If you are a fast rider, this would be a section to fly through as quickly
as possible. If you are slower, you might consider riding with someone to pass the time or
perhaps making use of a music-making device of some sort to keep you company. Unfortunately
we didn’t have the advantage of tailwinds after Idalia to give us speed – the winds seemed to
come from every direction. As we approached Idalia there were numerous whirlwinds of various
sizes which kept us amused for a while. Fortunately, Rowan and I had each other’s company
along the way.
||It was night when we arrived in Anton, 902 kms, and we were
both a little sleepy so we took a short nap on the picnic table outside the store, next to
the nice warm drink machines.
After we left Anton, the terrain became hilly again, and the wind picked up – a strong, cold crosswind. We were even more sleepy by the time we arrived at Last Chance and after a bit of debate decided to try to sleep for about 45 minutes in the shelter of a nook of the church, on a mat, covered with our space blankets. I’m still not sure if that was really a good idea. We both woke up very cold and disoriented, and then we had to face those crosswinds again which might have gotten even stronger than before.
|I struggled badly over those next 56 kms to Byers. The truck
traffic, which had accompanied us for almost the whole ride, went from annoying to terrifying
as we were blown all over the road every time one roared past at 70 miles per hour. The
winds kept sweeping us into the rumble strips on the side of the road. We couldn’t remove
our hands from our handlebars to eat or drink. And then one particularly strong blast
caught me as I was nearing the top of yet another hill and nearly took me off my bicycle.
I had to stop and completely broke down for a little while before I could get going again.
Rowan encouraged me, took my empty camelbak from me which was giving me a lot of pain in my
left shoulder, and gave me some water … and then we continued.
Byers was more adept at the prairie town tricks than Atwood. Time after time I could have sworn that was it in the distance, or that we should be getting close to it, and time after time the lights in the distance disappeared or moved away leaving us in darkness. Finally, we topped a hill which looked down on the valley where Byers was and were faced with a wide array of lights. The first little set of lights we reached was merely a small group of businesses … not Byers. How disappointing. Eventually though, we did reach the set of lights that was Byers, 991 kms, and finally, after a very long night, pulled into the motel.
The motel was quite full of riders who had come in ahead of us. My friend from Manitoba, Dean, was just leaving, but a whole group of others were still sleeping or starting to get ready to go. Rowan was not feeling very well, and it took us a while to figure out what we were going to do next. We ate, I took a short nap, Rowan changed clothes, and then we set off again for the home stretch – a route that took us back and forth, up and down, around the Louisville area.
Some of the route was into headwinds, some with crosswinds and some with tailwinds - the variety was nice after fighting crosswinds all night. Most of the route was hilly – unending undulations. Most of the route contained fairly heavy, fast traffic, including an incredible number of large, empty cattle trucks roaring up and down. And the day warmed up to be quite hot.
We stopped at Keenesburg, in a fascinating little café and antiques shop, for lunch. I would have loved to stay there longer and look at everything in the shop. There was such a contrast between the people there and their relaxed and casual pace and the turmoil of the event Rowan and I were getting close to finishing.
Then we picked up the pace a bit to get to Kersey, 1101 kms, but were slowed when I flatted, and then a short time later Rowan flatted … 5 flats between us! Arriving at Kersey gave me a boost. We ate, again, and then started the last 100 kms of the ride to the finish. For some reason, I felt better than I had over the entire ride. There were no more aches and pains except for my left shoulder and my quads – nothing I couldn’t handle. We took off at quite a pace and were flying (for me) up and down hills for 50 kms before we decided to take another break and refuel. The rest of the ride was a little slower, and night fell before we got to Louisville, but we still arrived on Centennial Circle, on our way to the finish, well within the closing time, only to run into a little snag … we had trouble finding the pre-finish check-in! I finally enlisted the help of a neighbor to direct me to an unassuming house without any signs or indications on it that it was the finish area.
|After marking down our finish times, confirming our “Lantern Rouge” position, and
depositing our cards in the box provided, Rowan and I made our way back to the motel. We
stopped at Walgreens to pick up a few supplies, and arrived at the start, quietly, without
any fanfare, to return to our room to eat and get some much-needed sleep.
Distance: 1200 kms
Sleep time: 4 hours
Head/crosswinds: ~850 kms
Flats: 3 for me, 2 for Rowan
Climbing: 18000 ft
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Charlene Barach (Machka)